Is the Congress Party ready to face upcoming Assembly polls in Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand? Election dates are likely to be announced soon. The indications so far are that while the BJP, which is one of the major opponents of the Congress in all three states, is far ahead in its preparedness to defend thrones, (the BJP is ruling in all the three states) the Congress is lagging behind. The Congress was handicapped with the leadership crisis after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls when party chief Rahul Gandhi resigned owning responsibility for the party’s humiliating defeat. Ultimately Sonia Gandhi came back as interim party chief.
The party was paralysed due to the leadership crisis and the poll-bound state units suffered the most with a double whammy of not having strong statelevel leaders. The BJP, on the other hand is depending on Modi’s charisma as well as the performance of the chief ministers in these states. The three state elections are important for both the national parties. The BJP is upbeat with the current favourable atmosphere. If the party wins, it will be a continuation of the success in 2019.
Secondly, it will also further establish the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party chief Amit Shah who are seen as the architects of the Lok Sabha victory. A second win within months of the Lok Sabha polls will further establish the hegemony of the party. Thirdly, election results will show whether the opposition (read Congress) has got its moorings back. Most of the opposition parties including the Congress were decimated in the recent Lok Sabha polls.
Fourthly, the elections will be an acid test to find out whether the sliding economy will have any impact on the election. Several indicators including the slump in auto sales, rail freight, consumption of petroleum products, domestic air travel and also in imports, clearly show the slowdown. The economy needs a huge stimulus. The ruling BJP ally Shiv Sena, though criticising the BJP every day is expected to go with the BJP ultimately. The seat sharing will be decided soon.
As for the Congress, the prospects do not appear to be good in any of the three poll- bound states with so much confusion within the state units. Though Sonia Gandhi is back as the party chief, she is taking time to address problems facing the party. It is not easy to strengthen party units which have been languishing for long. The other problem Congress is facing is the defection of a number of leaders who have shifted to the BJP. This erosion needs to be checked immediately. Moreover, the Congress ally NCP is also not in good shape facing factionalism and indiscipline as well as defections.
The NCP chief Sharad Pawar is losing his grip over the party. Also the seat-sharing between the two allies is yet to be finalised. In Haryana, after much dilly-dallying, the Congress has bought a truce by removing the Pradesh Congress chief Ashok Tanwar. Sonia has installed former Union Minister Kumari Selja in his place. In a move to pacify the defiant former chief minister B.S.Hooda, he has been nominated as the new legislature party leader though the polls are round the corner. Some say it is too little too late for the state party which is faction ridden. The BJP, on the other hand is going to the polls under the leadership of chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar, who has kept the flock together. Other smaller parties like INLD have split due to family disputes. The fragmentation in the Jat votes is also expected to help the BJP.
In Jharkhand, the BJP expects to win with its social coalition, which was mainly responsible for its victory in 2014 and 2019. A broad alliance of Congress, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, and Babulal Marandi’s party did not do well in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls while the BJP with AJSU won 12 of the 14 seats. The Congress got a jolt when recently its state president, Ajay Kumar, quit blaming party leaders and their vested interests. So the BJP chief minister Raghuvir Das is sitting pretty.
Sonia has appointed a new PCC chief, Rameshwar Oraon. In short, the Modi appeal, his communication skills, the appeal of current chief ministers, the BJP’s organizational strength, its unlimited money power and dedicated support of the parent organization RSS are all likely to help the saffron party. The opposition, on the other hand is weak, with limited funds and divided. Even winning one state would go a long way towards the revival of the Congress.