Agencies /New Delhi
Maharashtra and Haryana states will go to the polls in October, the Election Commission said yesterday, in a test of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity after he won a clear mandate in a general election in May.
The state assembly elections come after economic growth slipped to a six-year low in the April-June quarter, leading to major job losses, fuelling discontent in the countryside.
Voting for the 288-member Maharashtra and 90-member Haryana assembly will be held on October 21, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said.
Results will be declared on October 24.
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in power in both of the states. The party won all of the seats in Haryana in the May general election.
In Maharashtra, an alliance between the BJP and the Shiv Sena won more than 85% of the seats.
The main opposition Congress party has been struggling to hold its support in the two states after senior party officials in both of them joined the BJP and Shiv Sena in recent months.
In the 2014 assembly polls in Maharashtra, the BJP won 122 seats, Shiv Sena 63, the Congress 42, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) 41 and others 20.
The Congress and the NCP contested elections separately after sharing power for 15 years in Maharashtra.
In the 2014 assembly polls in Haryana, the BJP won 47 seats followed by the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) at 19 while the Congress which was the ruling party managed just 15 seats.
Two seats went to the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC), and one each to the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
Five independents were also elected.
Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar hoped the BJP would again form the next government in the state.
“Our party is fully prepared for this great cause of democracy,” Khattar tweeted hours after the Election Commission announced the election date.
“Our government has acted impartially in the development and in the interest of the people of the state. We are confident that this time members of the BJP family will celebrate Diwali with firecrackers of victory,” he added.
The opposition is “divided” and his party will win over 75 of the total 90 seats, Khattar said.
Ahead of the elections announcement, Congress leader Kuldeep Bishnoi’s cousin Dura Ram joined the BJP in the presence of Khattar.
Dura Ram was the legislator from Fatehabad from 2005 to 2009 and was parliamentary secretary in the previous Bhupinder Singh Hooda Congress government.
Senior INLD leader Ram Pal Majra also joined the BJP.
The Election Commission also announced by-elections to 64 assembly seats in 17 states and one Union Territory on October 21.
These include 15 seats in Karnataka, 11 in Uttar Pradesh, five each in Kerala and Bihar, four in Gujarat, Assam and Punjab, three in Sikkim, two seats each in Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan and one each in Arunachal Pradesh, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya, Odisha and Puducherry.
In Ludhiana, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said the Congress would easily win all the four assembly seats in the state.
He said the party was fully geared to contest the by-elections on the back of the government’s progressive and welfare programmes and schemes.
The people of state would once again put their seal of electoral approval on the Congress, which had proved in the past two-and-a half-years that it was the only party equipped to ensure the development of Punjab.
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