India: Mixed fortunes for Modi’s BJP in state polls

MALEGAON, India

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) faced mixed fortunes in two crucial provincial elections and by-polls for 51 provincial assembly and two parliament seats spread across 17 provinces. 

As official count of 10 million ballots went underway on Thursday morning, it is quite clear that BJP in alliance with another Hindu nationalist group Shiv Sena, has secured victory in the western coastal province of Maharashtra, which is home to the financial hub of Mumbai. 

The agrarian state of Haryana in the north, bordering New Delhi headed for a hung assembly, with the ruling BJP losing many seats, reversing all exit poll predictions. 

The elections were seen as a referendum on Modi’s Kashmir policy, as his party had made stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its autonomy as major poll plank.

Interestingly, in both provinces and in by-elections, the ruling party has fared better in urban seats, but lost many seats in rural areas.

According to unofficial results, in Maharashtra — one of richest provinces of India — the ruling BJP, along with its alliance partner Shiv Sena, has won 160 seats, out of the total of 288 seats.

The alliance lost 25 seats as compared to its strength in the outgoing assembly. The BJP alone has bagged 103 seats against 122, it had won five years ago. 

The Congress party led opposition alliance has won 102 seats, with junior partner the local Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), faring better securing 53 seats. The Congress has won just 43 seats. 

Commenting on the results, Delhi-based analyst A B Masood said that the BJP’s campaign based on its Kashmir policy, did not cut much ice with the voters, except in urban parts.

Another Maharashtra-based commentator Mustafa Khan, said the BJP has continued with its winning streak, but its support base has weakened. 

“The BJP’s ability to win election in Maharashtra is a victory of emotion over the intellect,” Khan, who is a retired professor told Anadolu Agency. 

“This election was not fought on the real issues. The muscular image of the Modi, revocation of special status to Jammu and Kashmir was used to push real issues under carpet,” he said, adding that the agrarian regions like Marathwada and Vidarbha are reeling under economic crises and farm distress. 

Sharad Pawar, the NCP chief, told reporters that the opposition has worked hard to project real issues. “Power comes, power goes, but it is important to remain committed to the cause,” he said.

Soon after results started coming, the ally Shiv Sena indicated that it is planning to play a hardball with the BJP, demanding a mechanism of rotating chief minister and more ministers than it held in the previous government.

The relationship between the two parties has been stormy, with the Sena repeatedly attacking the BJP on different fronts in the past. 

Muslim political outfit, the All India Majilis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) led by Asasudin Owasi which contested 44 seats, has won 2 seats. 

Mufti Mohammed Ismail, the AIMIM candidate, who won from Malegaon Central, told Anadolu Agency that his victory is the victory of people.

“People were thinking that my boat will capsize, but it is the will of Allah, that made me victorious,” said Ismail, who is Imam of local Jamia Masjid and member of consultation body of Internationally renowned, Darul Uloom Deoband seminary. 

In Haryana, the BJP has won 40 seats, of the total of 90 seats. It is short of six seats to reclaim power in the province.

The unexpected results have galvanized the opposition Congress, which has won 31 seats, to reach out to smaller parties to claim power.

A newly formed Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) led by Dushyant Chautala, has emerged a king maker with 10 seats in its kitty. 

Union Minister Prakash Javadekar of the BJP asserted that his party would form governments in both the provinces. 

Masood, who has visited the province ahead of polling, told Anadolu Agency that results have shown that caste fault lines have resurfaced in Haryana, where BJP had attempted to combine different Hindu castes, against the dominant Jat caste, who form 30% of population in the region.

According to figures issued by the Election Commission, the ruling BJP has polled 36.4% popular votes in Maharashtra and 25.6% popular votes in Haryana.

In the by-polls for 51 provincial assembly seats, the ruling BJP has been able to win 17 seats, with most of them seven in Uttar Pradesh.
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