Key lesson from Haryana and Maharashtra: All’s not over yet for the Opposition

The electoral setbacks for the ruling alliance in Maharashtra and Haryana indicate that a combination of a national alliance with a regional face in every state may do the trick for the opposition

Indian National Congress flag
Indian National Congress flag

Zafar Agha

The evening before the counting of votes in Maharashtra and Haryana, an old friend, Shahid Sami, called up from Aligarh and asked, “Any good news expected from Haryana and Maharashtra assembly elections?” I promptly told him, “don’t nurse any such hope at all.”

Well, who could have guessed sitting in Delhi that 24 hours later he would be having the last laugh? Such a pronounced shift in public mood so soon after Narendra Modi swept the Lok Sabha elections barely five months ago was unthinkable and political pundits had written off the Congress. The opposition, they had declared with conviction, was dead.

But the Indian voter indeed can never be taken for granted and retains the ability to spring a surprise or two. He keeps his preference close to the chest and leaves pundits guessing what he is up to. Every news channel and newspaper predicted a cakewalk for the BJP in Haryana and a similar result for the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance in Maharashtra.

But once the trends started rolling in, they left the BJP gasping in Haryana and also somewhat shaken in Maharashtra. Haryana brought cheers to the liberal camp. Maharashtra evoked the lament that if someone in the Opposition ranks even now is willing to fight back like Sharad Pawar did, all is not lost for the opposition even after a big defeat in the Lok Sabha election in 2019.

Everyone now wants to know what put off the voter from the BJP so soon after its emphatic victory in the general election earlier this year.

It is the economy, basically, which has done in the BJP in both Haryana and Maharashtra and even in the by-elections across the country. India’s economic situation has never been so bad over the past two decades. Even official figures have admitted that the unemployment rate is at a 45-year high. Forget about creation of new jobs; even the employed seem to be getting fired. Biscuit maker Parley G alone laid off 10,000 workers in less than two months, while carmakers like Maruti and Tata Motors actually closed production in certain segments of cars and trucks, leading to massive layoffs in the automobile sector. The realty sector has, of course, been down in the dumps for nearly five years.

Frankly, there was no good news from any industrial or business sector over the last four months at least. Forget about good news; even the lapdog media was forced to report about the dipping GDP growth rate and the overall slowdown in the economy.

I am no economist by any stretch of imagination. But even I can sense that India is facing one of its gravest economic crises in recent memory. When the central government is forced to withdraw more than Rs 74,000 Crore from Reserve Bank of India, you can guess how bad the situation really is. Indians never doubted the banks’ integrity, but even their faith in the banking system has been shaken up by the PMC Bank fiasco.

There is gloom all around, unemployment all over and no business looking up anywhere. How can you expect the voter to be gung-ho about the ruling party that has led the country into an economic mess that has become a nightmare for one and all? People are not just upset with the BJP; they are angry with the Modi government. They are no longer willing to buy Modi’s politics of smokescreens that the Prime Minister is master at generating whenever it’s time for elections.

Narendra Modi, as his wont, banked on the Pakistan card even in these elections. He couched it with BJP’s move to divest Jammu and Kashmir of its special status by scrapping Article 370. He thought the Pakistan smokescreen would once again force the voter forget his economic hardships. But no, Modi largely failed to hoodwink the voter. The voters almost defeated the BJP in Haryana and did not fully endorse the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance in Maharashtra either. By-election results too were far from encouraging for the BJP.

Well, the writing on the wall from these election results is quite clear: all is not over for the Opposition in the country. The Modi wave is on the wane. It’s time for the opposition to put its act together and go to the people like Bhupinder Hooda and Sharad Pawar did in Haryana and Maharashtra respectively.

A combination of a national alliance with a regional face in every state may do the trick in 2022, provided the Opposition goes to the people like Indira Gandhi did in the wake of the Congress defeat in 1977.

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