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States of Play: No Landslide But BJP-Shiv Sena Set to Retain Maharashtra; Haryana is a Cliffhanger

States of Play: No Landslide But BJP-Shiv Sena Set to Retain Maharashtra; Haryana is a Cliffhanger

The BJP fell far short of expectations that it would get majority on its own in both states and is now faced with a more assertive Sena, which is bargaining for a larger slice of power in Maharashtra, while the Congress is breathing down the ruling party’s neck in Haryana where young Turk Dushyant Chautala’s JJP holds the key.

New Delhi: Maharashtra threw up a few surprises while Haryana turned a roller coaster as votes were counted on Thursday for Assembly polls in the two BJP-held states. Analysts said local grievances transcended Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity as well as the ruling party’s “nationalism” and “Kashmir” narratives even as regional players loomed as kingmakers, and even possible "kings".

The BJP emerged as the single-largest party in both states, but its payoff was nowhere near the landslide wins predicted for it by most post-poll surveys. It may have to cede more ground to ally Shiv Sena in Maharashtra’s power-sharing arrangement after falling well short of the majority mark by itself, while Haryana will test the inventiveness of Amit Shah and other party strategists with the Congress within touching distance and a hung Assembly in the offing.

To form the government in Maharashtra, the winning party or alliance needs to net a minimum of 145 constituencies out of a total 288, while the majority mark in Haryana is 46 with 90 seats in the Assembly.

The day belonged to two young turks, Jannayak Janata Party’s Dushyant Chautala in Haryana and Shiv Sena’s Aaditya Thackeray in Maharashtra, both contenders for the chief minister’s post in their respective states after strong performances by their parties. While sources said the JJP chief will join hands with whoever offers him Haryana’s top job, 29-year-old Aaditya too has a shot in Maharashtra but may have to settle for the deputy CM’s post.

“I will consult the people of Haryana before I take a decision on being part of a coalition,” said 31-year-old Chautala, amid reports of both the Congress and BJP reaching out to him for support. All three, however, denied these claims.

Talks of Aaditya Thackeray getting the Maharashtra chief minister’s position had been waved aside before the elections by incumbent Devendra Fadnavis, when the BJP leader went on to say that he was unquestionably going to keep the post.

But as it became clear on Thursday that the BJP Awas set for a below-par performance in the state and would have to rely on its long-time ally to retain power, the Shiv Sena grew more assertive. The party is also negotiating for a ‘50:50’ power-sharing formula – dividing the five-year tenure of the government, and occupying the chief minister’s office for two-and-a-half years.

“The 50:50 formula was decided. Discussions should be held and then it should be determined that who would be the chief minister,” said Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray at a press conference. He also congratulated his son, Aaditya, on winning his debut election from the Worli assembly constituency.

Fadnavis, though, appears in no mood to give up his chair. “We are going to go ahead according to what has been decided between Shiv Sena and us. What has been decided is something which you will get to know when the time is right,” he told the media moments after Uddhav Thackeray’s press meet, while also announcing that 15 rebels would join the BJP and the party is in talks with others as well.

The day also belonged to two seasoned regional satraps. While the Congress’s Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who till weeks ago found himself sidelined by his party, is now its only hope of stitching together a government in the state, NCP president Sharad Pawar staged a strong comeback after being all but written off by many analysts even as he and party colleague Praful Patel faced the heat from central agencies in corruption cases.

“The opposition has worked hard and all members of Congress-NCP and allies have delivered and given their best. I thank them all,” Pawar told the media even as results were trickling in. “Power comes, power goes but it is important to remain committed to a cause and we thank the people for the love they showed.”

Pawar displayed a fire-in-the-belly determination on the campaign trail, braving inclement weather and a combative BJP even as ally Congress, consumed by infighting, was largely missing on the ground. Images of the 78-year-old former chief minister speaking at a public meeting in Satara amid heavy rain, his white shirt soaked, was spread widely on social media. His NCP has emerged third in the results, pushing Congress to fourth in the state.

Former two-time chief minister Hooda is in touch with the JJP and independent candidates, say sources, with the Congress relying on the wily Jat politician to shepherd its flock to power in Haryana. Hooda, who has reportedly been given a “free hand” by interim Congress president Sonia Gandhi, faces a nettlesome test as the BJP has its nose ahead in the polls and hectic parleys are already on between various parties.

The 72-year-old had found himself out of favour when Rahul Gandhi was heading the party and the state unit was mired in a lengthy leadership tussle. The party finally named former union minister Kumari Selja the Haryana Pradesh Congress Committee chief in September, and Hooda the Congress legislative party leader and chief of the election management committee as Sonia Gandhi took charge again.

“The mandate is against the current government of Haryana, and all parties should come together to form a strong government, whether it’s JJP, BSP, INLD, or independent candidates,” Hooda told journalists after winning from the Garhi Sampla Kiloi seat.

The results come as an object lesson for the BJP which had yet again pinned its hopes on Prime Minister Modi’s popularity while its leaders on the campaign trail ratcheted up the rhetoric on the planks of nationalism and Jammu & Kashmir being stripped of its special status.

Political observers said the ruling party relied heavily on national issues while overlooking local problems, among them the lingering effects of its demonetisation and GST implementation, even as a swirling economic slowdown wipes out jobs and purchasing power while floods and drought have ravaged several parts of the country.

Anti-incumbency was also a key factor and the local leadership failed to inspire enough confidence after not delivering on many promises related to infrastructure, employment and social issues.

Resentment against a Punjabi chief minister, Manohar Lal Khattar, in Jat-dominated Haryana played a significant part. Sections of the voters who hauled the BJP to its stunning victory in this year’s Lok Sabha elections were unimpressed by the performance of local leaders and were searching for an alternative, the observers said.

Voting in Maharashtra’s 288 constituencies and Haryana’s 90 constituencies was held on October 21. In Maharashtra, 61.3 per cent voters turned up to cast their vote while the voter turnout in Haryana was 68.31 per cent.

The results also reinforce the return of the old guard in the Congress. While the party put up a feeble show on the campaign trail and has been wracked by dissension and desertion, seasoned stalwarts like Hooda, Ahmed Patel and Ghulam Nabi Azad played a pivotal part in the Haryana electoral strategy, while Balasaheb Thorat and Eknath Gaikwad oversaw the campaign in Maharashtra.

Leaders like Ashok Tanwar in Haryana and Nana Patole, favoured by Rahul Gandhi, have been overshadowed. Tanwar quit the party this month, after citing “internal contradictions” within the Congress and is now backing Dushyant Chautala’s chief ministerial bid.