With only a few days left for assembly elections in two important states — Maharashtra and Haryana — the scene in both is more placid and the mood more timid than during past elections in these states. The two states represent two faces of the country. Maharashtra is highly urbanised and Haryana largely rural, but both are highly politicised. The elections do not cause much excitement because of the lack of a real contest and competition, as the Congress, which is the challenger in both states, is unable to make it a fight. Both states were strongholds of the party in the past. The Congress ruled Maharashtra continuously for 15 years and Haryana for 10 years till 2014. But it no longer enjoys dominance in the states. Indeed, it is a shadow of its former self, unable to pose a challenge to the ruling BJP.
The Congress has not been able to make adequate electoral preparations in either state. The party units were weakened by factionalism and desertions of leaders, workers and even candidates who had filed their nominations. In Maharashtra, the Congress is in an alliance with Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and both parties have seen leaders and workers leaving for the BJP or the Shiv Sena. Key leaders like Sanjay Nirupam are critics and dissenters now. The infighting in Haryana between former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and party chief Ashok Tanwar saw public airing of charges and protests, finally leading to Tanwar quitting the party. The BJP started its preparations and campaign long ago, but the Congress campaign is yet to take off. The party even found it difficult to find good candidates in some constituencies. It is not in a position to take advantage of the anti-incumbency sentiment in either state. It is the BJP’s ally Shiv Sena that steals more limelight than the Congress in criticising the state government and its policies in Maharashtra.
The problems in the Congress reflect the disarray in the party at the national level. There are organisational and leadership issues and there is no guidance and direction from the central level for the state units. Rahul Gandhi has withdrawn from organisational activities and party president Sonia Gandhi is unable to devote much time for campaigning. There is political and ideological confusion in the party in all states. In Haryana, Hooda has supported the Modi government’s Kashmir policy while Congress’ central leadership has opposed it. In this scenario, no-one expects the party to put its house in order and present a credible fight in the elections.