New Delhi: On the last day of campaigning ahead of the Assembly elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah on Saturday addressed a series of rallies in Haryana and Maharashtra where they criticised the Congress over a host of issues, including abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and corruption in the opposition’s ranks.
Both states will go to polls on October 21, with counting of votes three days later. The campaigning for the state polls has been a high-decibel battle between the BJP and opposition parties.
Voting for bypolls will also be held across 66 Assembly seats and two Lok Sabha constituencies on October 21 alongside the Assembly elections.
Modi on Saturday addressed two rallies in Rewari and Ellenabad in Haryana in which he accused Congress leaders of failing to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution despite having promised to do so in Parliament in 1964.
While the BJP made the scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status a major poll plank, the opposition slammed the government over issues of unemployment and farmers' distress during electioneering. The ruling BJP has set a target of bagging over 75 seats in Haryana – it currently has 48 members in the 90-member Assembly.
The main contest in the state is seen between the BJP, the Congress and the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP).
However, Chief Minister Manohal Lal Khattar has claimed that the opposition is in disarray and the BJP has no direct contest with any party.
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the alliance of the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), Swaraj India, and Loktantra Suraksha Party (LSP) have thrown their hats into the ring although none of them is fighting on all 90 seats.
Prominent amongst those in the contest are Khattar (Karnal), former CM and Congress Legislative Party leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda (Garhi Sampla-Kiloi), Randeep Singh Surjewala (Kaithal), Kiran Choudhary (Tosham) and Kuldeep Bishnoi (Adampur).
Besides, JJP's Dushyant Chautala (Uchana Kalan), INLD's Abhay Singh Chautala (Ellenabad), state BJP chief Subhash Barala (Tohana), the solitary woman minister Kavita Jain (Sonipat), ministers Ram Bilas Sharma (Mahendergarh), Anil Vij (Ambala Cantt), OP Dhankar (Badli) and Captain Abhimanyu (Narnaund) are also in the fray.
The BJP has fielded three sportspersons — Babita Phogat (Dadri), Yogeshwar Dutt (Baroda in Sonipat) and Sandeep Singh (Pehowa) — as well as TikTok artist Sonali Phogat (Adampur).
Rahul Gandhi and Ghulam Nabi Azad were among the prominent faces for the Congress, which has witnessed signs of a rift after state unit chief Ashok Tanwar quit the party and announced his support to the JJP.
In his two rallies in Nuh and Mahendragarh, Gandhi said Modi had no understanding of the economy and claimed that the world was mocking India as the BJP was pitting people against each other.
Attacking the government over the state of economy, Gandhi said unemployment was the highest in the past 40 years in the country and farmers were committing suicide.
Opposition washed out in Maharashtra
The campaign for the Maharashtra Assembly elections was also dominated by the aggressive narrative of the nullification of Article 370 by the BJP, which is seeking a second straight term under Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.
From the Opposition's perspective, it was perhaps the most lacklustre canvassing with the exception of a few rallies addressed by Gandhi who continued to highlight issues like the economic slowdown, unemployment, "failure" of demonetisation, and the GST rollout.
The main contest in the state will be between the "Mahayuti" or grand alliance led by the BJP and the "maha-aghadi" (front) led by the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
The BJP is contesting 164 seats, which include candidates of smaller allies contesting on its lotus symbol, while the Sena has fielded candidates on 126 seats.
On the other hand, the Congress has fielded 147 candidates and its ally NCP 121.
Among other parties, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), led by Raj Thackeray, has fielded 101 candidates, the CPI 16, the CPM 8. The BSP has fielded candidates in 262 constituencies. A total of 1,400 Independents are also in the poll arena.
The campaign in the state was marked by personal attacks and a sharp exchange of barbs between Fadnavis and NCP chief Sharad Pawar, who seemed to be the only saving grace for the opposition and hit the hustings at the age of 79 and addressed a number of rallies.
However, the Congress and the NCP failed to hold even a single joint rally in contrast to the joint rally held by Modi and Sena president Uddhav Thackeray in Mumbai on October 18.
While Modi addressed nine rallies across the state, Gandhi spoke at six public meetings.
The BJP also sought to subtly raise the Hindutva narrative when the Maharashtra unit of the party raised the demand for conferring the Bharat Ratna for Hindutva icon Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in its manifesto.
The elections were marked by large-scale dissensions in the rank and file of the BJP as well as the Sena, with many candidates who were denied tickets contesting as Independents.
Prominent candidates in the fray are Fadnavis and his predecessors from Congress, Ashok Chavan, who is in fray from Bhokar in Nanded district, and Prithviraj Chavan seeking re-election from Karad South in Satara district.
In a first, Yuva Sena chief Aaditya Thackeray, son of Uddhav Thackeray, is contesting from Worli in Mumbai. The 29-year-old is the first Thackeray to make debut in electoral politics.
(With inputs from agencies)