Home Minister Amit Shah recently reiterated that CM Nitish Kumar will lead the NDA’s campaign in the 2020 Bihar Assembly elections. The reliance on this winning combination confirmed what election studies have suggested — there is less chance of the people being able to differentiate between voting for their state and national representatives, especially if the polls are held in the wake of the General Election. The Assembly elections in Haryana and Maharashtra are being held today, five months after the Lok Sabha polls, and going by this premise, the BJP expects to romp home unless undercurrents queer the pitch.
The BJP harped on nationalism to counter the Congress charge of pursuing divisive politics, listing abrogation of Article 370 and the Balakot airstrikes as major achievements. In the poll din, the state of the economy and local issues took a backseat as national interest was projected to be paramount. Nobody questioned the BJP why a BSF jawan was killed on the Bangladesh border soon after Sheikh Hasina’s visit, a border that had been quiet for more than a decade, in contrast to the hype over Pakistan. Sonia Gandhi stayed away from campaigning while Rahul Gandhi addressed only a few rallies for the Congress. Intra-party differences surfaced in Haryana, though former CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda is expected to put up a fight. In Maharashtra, the Congress abdicated the role of the opposition to the NCP even as the Shiv Sena-BJP presented a united front. The Congress campaign, in particular, has been lacklustre there, resource constraints hindering efforts. The use of electoral bonds for funding is said to have made it difficult with the authorities in the know of who is giving what to whom. ED action against P Chidambaram and Praful Patel added to the Opposition’s woes, even as old warhorse Sharad Pawar led the charge. After the drubbing in the parliamentary polls, the Congress seems content to let the BJP ride the crest of the wave, hoping it would hit the trough on its own. But for now, in the two state elections along with bypolls to 51 Assembly seats and two Lok Sabha constituencies spread across 18 states, major surprises may well prove to be elusive.
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