Another Battle Royal

Another Battle Royal

No two elections, like no two persons and no two parties, are alike. So, it is not surprising that the bypoll results that gave a bloody nose to the...

No two elections, like no two persons and no two parties, are alike. So, it is not surprising that the bypoll results that gave a bloody nose to the BJP and thumbs-up to the Samajwadi Party have yielded place to the next mother of all battles in Maharashtra and Haryana. In both States, the BJP and the Congress are the main players. And in both the States, the Congress is a divided house. This is not a matter of cheer, as yet, for the BJP.

Its alliance with Shiv Sena is in bad shape with the Sena Pramukh, Udhav Thackeray, daily holding out homilies to his Hindutva big brother through his Samna columns and editorials. The Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) ended its three-year alliance with the BJP on August 28. Its chief Kuldeep Bishnoi has since cozied upto the Congress.

From all accounts, HJC is not a big player, and BJP hopes to make up this desertion by tying up with the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) of Om Prakash Chautala. He is a ‘tainted neta,’ and has received a 10-year jail term on the charge that as Chief Minister, he had illegally recruited over 3,000 teachers during 1999-2000. Known as teachers’ recruitment scam, it was investigated by the CBI under the Supreme Court orders during the Vajpayee regime. Yet, the INLD and BJP have no reason to worry as the anti-graft crusader, Arvind Kejriwal, and his Aaam Aadmi Party (AAM) have no interest in Haryana politics these days.

Chautala is still politically worth his salt. And his cadres have already gone to the town, saying that he would run the state from Tihar jail. Given his Jat vote bank, Chautala will like to be the proverbial big brother. It will not be to the liking of the BJP, though it has very few pockets of influence and is banking on Modi charisma alone. Since politics is a game of realism coupled with optimism, both sides will like to strike it rich at the ballot box.

It means the Chautala-BJP deal will be different from the one between HJC and BJP, which was sealed in 2012. Bishnoi had driven a hard bargain then and made the Hindutva biggie accept a 45-45 seat sharing formula and a two-and-a-half-years Chief Ministership arrangement. Sushma Swaraj, who hails from Haryana, negotiated with him and accepted his demands without a demur. Now things have changed.

With Amit Shah at the helm of 10, Ashok Road headquarters, Bishnoi found no takers for his insistence on the old formula. BJP saw no reason to oblige him. It won seven out of the eight Lok Sabha seats it had contested while the HJC was trounced in the two seats it had fielded its candidates. Bishnoi himself had lost in Hissar, from where he had won in 2009. INLD had won two Lok Sabha seats and secured a 24 per cent vote share, pushing the Congress to the third slot with one LS seat and 23 per cent vote share to the dismay of Bhupinder Singh Hooda, the party’s face in Haryana for two terms. He hopes to put up a better fight next month and in the process prove worthy of the trust the First Family, particularly the crown prince, has reposed in him.

Hooda’s troubles have something to do with the land deals of Robert Vadra, who has carved out a real estate empire on the periphery of Haryana. Delhi High Court has just rejected a PIL for a probe into Vadra land deals. Some relief to the beleaguered Hooda, it is. He is gambling big on the humiliation suffered by fellow Jat Ajit Singh to pump prime his own electoral prospects. The Modi government’s decision to evict Ajit from a Lutyen’s bungalows is ill-timed, undoubtedly. Venkaiah Naidu, who has become Ajit’s tormentor as the Urban Development Minister, himself, didn’t vacate his bungalow, when it was his turn to do so.

The house, 12 Tughlaq Road, where Ajit has been living, was originally allotted to his father, the Great Jat, Chaudhry Charan Singh, when he moved to the national capital from Lucknow to join the Morarji government. Over the past three decades, there was no demand to convert the house into a memorial though his followers ensured a Kisan Ghat in the vicinity of Raj Ghat and Shanti Van.

Ajit has not managed to retain “Chaudhryjee’s legacy.” His brand of politics had helped him cosy up to whoever was in power. In the process, he lost his clout in Meerut, his family pocket borough, on the outskirts of Delhi. Put simply, Hooda’s new found Jat card has limited electoral potential.

Now, cut to Maharashtra where the unfolding power play between Shiv Sena and the BJP has all the ingredients of a one-day cricket match. Since BJP was keen on Delhi throne all these years, the alliance worked without any sign of friction. Not any longer. Uddhav has succeeded in putting the Sena House in order. He also has managed to be one-up on his estranged cousin, Raj, who, after successive electoral failures of his MNS, is drifting towards the Congress. His campaign theme: ‘Utha Maharashtra’ (Wake up, Maharashtra). And slogan is ‘Chala Utha, Maharashtra Ghadvuya’ (Wake up, let’s build a better Maharashtra).

Reflecting the changed times, Uddhav has already staked his claim for the top job. And within the BJP, Nitin Gadkari is the dark horse, while Gopinath Munde’s daughter, Pankaja, has thrown her hat in the ring saying “it is time for Maharashtra to have a woman Chief Minister.” Devendra Fadnavis, the BJP state President, is another contender, with his camp pitching in with the slogan “Uper Narendra-Neeche Devendra.”

Travelling through Maharashtra these past few days, I noticed that while Sena remains a solid monolith, the BJP unit lacks cohesion, and has feet of clay in several pockets that matter in electoral sweep stakes. Uddhav’s aggressive stance “demand for more sex (seats) can lead to divorce” (with BJP) is to prove a point; it is that he is the true heir to Balasaheb in electoral terms. A BJP leader retorted thus: “Impotency can also become a cause of divorce.”

The writing on the wall in the city of Peshwas and beyond is that Congress-NCP alliance will end up as its own bitter enemy unless they abide by the coalition dharma of respecting each other. Also the Congress must give up its tendency to snipe at Sharad Pawar since the “Great Maratha” has no match in drawing up strategies to stall the return of Sena-BJP combine to the Mumbai Sachivalaya.

All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) and the Hindu Rashtra Sena (HRS) are also in the fray, seeking a big presence in the state. But their battle royal will be at Hadapsar, the assembly segment on the outskirts of Pune, which witnessed mob hysteria this summer.

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