Assembly elections in Maharashtra, where the opposition - the Congress and the NCP - has been weakened after senior leaders defected to the BJP, will be held in a single phase on October 21, the Election Commission said today. The result of the election, in which nearly nine crore people will vote, will be declared on October 24. The election will be the first since Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP stormed to victory in national polls in April-May, with a strong performance in Maharashtra backing that win, and the party will hope for a similarly decisive result next month.
In the 2014 election, ahead of which the BJP-Shiv Sena and the Congress-NCP alliances splintered, the BJP emerged as the single-largest party with 122 seats in the 288-seat assembly. The Sena, which broke from the BJP after seat-sharing talks failed, won 63 and became reluctant post-poll allies in Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis' government. The Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) won just 42 and 41 seats respectively.
For the 2019 polls, although the BJP and the Shiv Sena have yet to finalise a seat-sharing deal, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has expressed confidence in the talks, which he described as progressing "amicably".
"I am saying with no uncertainty that we will contest the Assembly polls along with Shiv Sena. The seat-sharing talks are still on, do not trust the reports," Mr Fadnavis said while speaking at the India Today Conclave 2019.
Speaking on Friday, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray was similarly confident, and said alliance details had been planned as far back as the Lok Sabha polls.
The Congress and the NCP have already come to an understanding - the two will contest 125 seats each, leaving 38 for smaller opposition parties.
The 2019 polls will provide a stern test of the BJP's performance in the state, with key issues such as farm loan waivers, job creation, the crisis in the auto industry and the government's handling of droughts and famines likely to influence voters.
The BJP is likely to highlight its decision on Article 370 in an effort to deflect criticism from the opposition over its failure to contain the crisis in the auto industry, parts of which are based in Nashik.
A massive slowdown in the auto sector has seen lakhs of jobs cut and reduced working days for employees on daily contracts.
PM Modi, who kick-started the BJP's campaign on Friday at Nashik, did just that, speaking of his vision for Jammu and Kashmir - one that recreates it as the "paradise" it once was.
The Congress, meanwhile, is still struggling to recover from its dismal performance in Lok Sabha polls. The party won just one parliamentary seat in the state and zero in Mumbai, reinforcing the BJP and Shiv Sena's dominance in Maharashtra.
The party, which faces a similar fight in Haryana, the other poll-going state, will target the BJP over the condition of the state's economy, according to senior leader Kapil Sibal.
"It is understandable the BJP would talk about Article 370 during the campaign while ignoring the real problems such as unemployment, or the state of the economy today," he told news agency ANI, adding, "Economic slowdown is the biggest concern".
However, the party faces challenges from within as well, with key leaders like former Leader of the Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil and former Mumbai Congress chief Kripashankar Singh quitting. Mr Patil has already joined the BJP and Mr Singh expected to follow soon.
Allies NCP have also seen a slew of defections, with Ganesh Naik, the party's strongman from Navi Mumbai the latest. His joining the BJP comes after his son, Sandeep Naik, crossed over. NCP chief Sharad Pawar has dismissed the desertions, claiming he had faced bigger challenges in his career.
With input from ANI
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