Ten factors causing a churn in Maharashtra politics

The Lok Sabha 2019 results on 23rd May 2019 shocked a lot of journalists in the Marathi TV and newspaper media space. They had painted a picture of Congress-NCP giving a tough fight to the BJP-Shiv Sena combine (check their Twitter timelines for entertainment on hindsight). Their numbers for the UPA ranged from 15 to 20 in Maharashtra. The picture being painted was that Sharad Pawar’s clever strategy would trounce any impending Modi wave. The journos and liberal commentators on Marathi news channels were betting on the drought hit farmers punishing the BJP-Shiv Sena. But it ended in a damp squib for them.

Sharad Pawar and Rahul Gandhi
Sharad Pawar and Rahul Gandhi could not deliver

The NDA won 41 seats with the BJP (23) and Shiv Sena (18) retaining their tally of last time. THe NCP too retained their tally of four from 2014, while the Congress halved from two seats to one seat. One independent won with NCP support, though it is not clear whom she would support.

Following are the ten trends that affected the Lok Sabha 2019 election results in Maharashtra and would have a strong bearing on the assembly elections to be held in October,

  1. BJP-Shiv Sena alliance worked: The BJP and Shiv Sena squabbled like cats and dogs in the last five years, but came together three months before the Lok Sabha elections. There were a lot of questions raised regarding the NDA, would it be effective again, would the workers of these parties gel together, would the BJP and Sena voters vote for the alliance partner. But the alliance clicked with the voters, especially the “yuti” voters in Maharashtra who used to support either of the parties since the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation days. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray emerged as the heros of the NDA. Both took one step backward to form the alliance, despite 5 years of acrimony between their parties. Both gave concessions to their alliance partner as a face saver.
  2. Failure of Sharad Pawar: Sharad Pawar ran a very visible campaign in his quest to restrict the NDA tally in Maharashtra. Pawar roamed across Maharashtra tirelessly despite his advanced age. Pawar was never been so active in the last 15 years. He built a coalition of fifty-three different parties and organisations to defeat the NDA. But in the end his attempts came to nought due to a combination of his own ego and factors beyond his reach. Had Pawar given up the Ahmednagar seat to the Congress and allowed Dr. Sujay Vikhe Patil to contest, the seat might have been won by the UPA. Sujay’s father and LoP in Maharashtra assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil urged Pawar to consider Sujay as his own grandson and concede the seat. But Pawar could not rise above his enemity with Sujay’s grandfather Late Balasaheb Vikhe Patil. Sujay joined the BJP and won Ahmednagar seat by a margin of 2.8 lakh votes. Pawar also tried to convince Prakash Ambedkar to join the UPA, but Ambedkar’s ambitions were not going to be sufficed with 4-6 seats. In the end, Pawar cut a sorry figure. Another loss in the Maharashtra assembly elections in October 2019 could signal the beginning of the end of Sharad Pawar’s 50-year-old political career.
  3. Irrelevance of the Congress: Congress has been relegated to the margins in Maharashtra in this Lok Sabha elections. Congress were lucky to win one seat, same tally as the AIMIM. In fact Congress went down from two seats in 2014 to one seat. The seat they won was against BJP minister Hansraj Ahir in Chandrapur, where the Congress candidate was a Shiv Sena MLA and local liquor baron who switched sides at the last moment. The election was probably won on the local issue of prohibition, where the votes were against the BJP, whose minister Sudhir Mungantiwar enforced prohibition in Chandrapur district (on demand of the local women). Elsewhere two ex-chief ministers Ashok Chavan and Sushil Kumar Shinde lost on a Congress ticket. In Mumbai, the Congress has become the new muslim league and strong candidates like Milind Deora, Priya Dutt and Eknath Gaikwad got a repeat dose of 2014. Only chance for Congress is the anti incumbency against Modi government and the state government (if the NDA are to win 2019 assembly elections) in 2024.
  4. Trust in Modi trumped drought and rural distress: Maharashtra has faced successive droughts in the last five years and has been the epicentre of farmer agitations. Large farmer agitations have originated from Ahmednagar, Sangli and Kolhapur districts on the issue of falling farm prices. Powerful farmer leaders like Raju Shetti defected from the NDA to the UPA on these issues. The whole Congress ecosystem worked on giving print and TV space to this agitation (nothing wrong in it minus the politics). CM Fadnavis and his pointsman Girish Mahajan have been at the forefront of silencing these agitations throughout these five years. Be it meeting Anna Hazare or groups of farmers and agreeing to their main demands, every  fire fighting measure was done by the government to mollify the farmers. The country’s trust in Modi ensured the farmer anger was muted in the Lok Sabha 2019 election. But the NDA could face farmer anger in the upcoming assembly election, especially if Maharashtra faces a deficient monsoon.
  5. Balakot and nationalism: The surge of nationalism post the Balakot air strike was felt throughout the country and Maharashtra was not going to be untouched by it. The history of Maharashtra means that voters of any caste are nationalistic to the core. Many experts make the mistake of thinking that Modi earned the respect of the citizens due to the Balakot air strike only. Balakot was just an instance which showed to the voters that Modi will do whatever it takes to ensure safety and security of India. Modi could advertise his record on national security because the principal opponent Congress party has a weak record on this issue. UPA government should have attacked the terrorist camps in PoK after 26/11, but they did not. In fact Sam Pitroda made a virtue out of this inaction. This was not liked by the voters.
  6. Maratha reservation and 10% EWS reservation: The silent Maratha agitation was a major challenge to Devendra Fadnavis in the last 2-3 years. The Congress has made a weak attempt at Maratha reservation towards the fag-end of their tenure. The Fadnavis government seems to have made a strong Maratha reservation bill which has come into action from this educational term. The Maratha community has slowly started voting for the BJP and having Modi as the face has helped in further attracting them. Now we see an exodus of Maratha leaders from the Congress-NCP towards the BJP. This could wreck the chances of the NCP which is essentially a Maratha caste party. The 10% reservation for Economically Weaker Section (EWS) was necessitated after the BJP loss in the three heartland states and the upper caste anger against the ordinance brought by the Modi govt to reverse the dilution of the SC/ST reservation act. The Maratha and EWS reservation covers the poor upper castes in Maharashtra, without touching the existing OBC and SC/ST reservation. This seems to have helped the NDA get votes from all sections of voters. Though there is some anger among the general category students (upper castes) who are not covered in the Maratha and EWS reservation.
  7. Fadnavis passes semi-final with flying colors: Though the Lok Sabha elections were mostly centered around Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but the governance record of CM Devendra Fadnavis helped in urban areas and key rural segments. The infrastructure work started in Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur by Fadnavis is bearing fruits for the BJP, as he looks to extend it to tier two cities like Nashik. Also work on the JalYukt Shivar (micro irrigation campaign) helped the NDA in parts of Vidarbha, Latur in Marathwada, Jalgaon and Dhule in North Maharashtra. The water conservation work of the government helped these rural areas to cope with the drought in some measure. Though Fadnavis faces his main test in October 2019 in form of the Maharashtra assembly election.
  8. Big time flop show by Raj Thackeray: The Marathi media and liberals painted Raj Thackeray as the messiah in their fight against the evil that Narendra Modi and his BJP represented in their world view. Raj did well in what he does best, give fiery speeches against Narendra Modi and state BJP leaders. The huge crowds were construed as a signal of widespread anti-incumbency against the Modi and Fadnavis governments. Though on voting day, Raj Thackeray’s own booth in Shivaji Park voted overwhelmingly for the Sena. In fact the association with MNS harmed Congress candidates like Milind Deora in Mumbai. Best of luck to the Congress if they align with the Raj Thackeray in the upcoming assembly elections. For Raj himself the future seems bleak. I don’t see MNS winning a single MLA seat in Mumbai and they would be lucky to win even one seat in whole of Maharashtra.
  9. Importance of Girish Mahajan and Chandrakant dada Patil: The two key lieutenants of Devendra Fadnavis have been Girish Mahajan and Chandrakant dada Patil. Girish Mahajan has replaced Eknath Khadse as the BJP spearhead in North Maharashtra. He has been able to win elections from zilla parishad to Lok Sabha for the BJP and emerged as the main negotiator on behalf of Fadnavis, to quell the farmer agitations. Chandrakant dada Patil on the other hand is a RSS man who worked in the background for most of this tenure. He started building the BJP organisation in the cooperative belt of Western Maharashtra organically or through acquisition of leaders from the Congress-NCP. These two individuals will play a big role in the next five years, should the NDA win the upcoming assembly elections.
  10. Ambition of Balasaheb Ambedkar: The grandson of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar has emerged as the leader of the third pole in Maharashtra. The Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (or literally the party of the ignored sections) had a tie-up with Hyderabad based AIMIM of Asaduddin Owaisi. Pawar and Ashok Chavan tried hard to get the VBA under the UPA umbrella by offering him 4-6 seats. But Prakash “Balasaheb” Ambedkar was in no mood to agree and kept asking for 20 odd seats. His intention was never to ally with the UPA. The negotiations were a way of ducking the blame of splitting the so-called secular votes. Ambedkar wanted to build a Dalit (especially the neo-buddhist Mahar community) and Muslim votebank.                                                                                                                                       He sensed the terminal decline of the Congress in Maharashtra and wanted to establish himself as the third pole in the state. Though the muslims did not vote whole heartedly to the VBA-AIMIM combine, they managed to win the Aurangabad seat by a slender margin. The VBA damaged the UPA chances in seven seats in Marathwada, Vidarbha and Western Maharashtra (refer table below). This success of the VBA would galvanise the Dalit-Muslim votebank in its favour in the assembly elections and could damage the Congress-UPA badly. Prakash Ambedkar has hardened his stand after this success and might not settle below 80-100 seats in the assembly. The Congress-NCP bosses are stuck between the rock and a hard place. Giving so many seats to the VBA in near impossible, but if they do give in then they face an even bigger Maratha exodus towards the BJP-Shiv Sena. Mumbai-Thane would be an interesting area to watch out for in October 2019. If the AIMIM wrecks the Congress-NCP chances in the minority dominated seats, the UPA could end up in single digits in these important 60 assembly seats.

    VBA damaged UPA on seven seats
    VBA damaged UPA in seven seats of Maharashtra

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