The ground campaign for the Maharashtra assembly polls has kicked off in right earnest post the Dasara celebrations. Traditionally it is called as “Simolanghan (सीमोल्लंघन)” when the armies would start a military campaign after Dasara and cross the borders. All the main campaigners like Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, Shiv Sena supremo Uddhav Thackeray and NCP chief Sharad Pawar kicked off their ground campaign across the state. Fadnavis and Uddhav Thackeray started from North Maharashtra while Sharad Pawar started from Vidarbha. With just 10 days to go for the campaign (before the actual polling on 21st October), time is ticking at a faster pace. Especially time is running out for the Congress and NCP. Rahul Gandhi is expected to campaign in Maharashtra from 13th October, though it is not clear about the locations and number of rallies he will do. Rahul Gandhi will most probably begin with a rally in Mumbai. Now considering the tight schedule for campaigning, I would term a Congress rally in Mumbai as totally unnecessary. Let me explain why I say this and what’s the “Konkan factor” that is stacked against the Congress and NCP.
The actual Konkan division of Maharashtra is limited to three districts of Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg and has all of 15 seats. Hardly significant in a state assembly with strength of 288 seats. However in a broader sense, Konkan (कोकण) refers to the entire narrow coastline of Maharashtra. This includes the regions of Mumbai and Thane as well. Infact about 60-70% of the Marathi speaking population of Mumbai comprises of the people from Konkan. Thus Mumbai and Thane are connected by an umbilical cord to Konkan. Shiv Sena used Mumbai as a base to expand across Maharashtra and especially the Konkan, by sending their Mumbai based leaders to build a base in their native regions. The Konkan is now the only remaining bastion of the Shiv Sena.
So now if we take the greater Konkan region by including the four districts of Mumbai City, Mumbai Suburban, Thane and Palghar; the region contributes 75 seats or 25% of the total seats in the Maharashtra assembly (288). This is where the challenge for the Congress and NCP gets starker and the BJP-Shiv Sena are at a huge advantage. The BJP is fighting 31 seats in this region (Mumbai- 17, Thane-Palghar- 11, Konkan-3) and the Shiv Sena is fighting 44 seats (Mumbai-19, Thane-Palghar-13, Konkan-12). As I had said the three districts of Konkan are a Sena bastion which is reflected in them fighting 80% of the seats in that region.
The Congress will fight the bulk of the seats in Mumbai but it has fallen on hard times. It has lost many of it’s leaders by defection or death (Gurudas Kamat’s untimely demise few months ago). The rest of the leaders like Sanjay Nirupam and Milind Deora are useless in the current context. Congress has become the new muslim league in Mumbai. The muslims are the only demography that vote in large numbers for the Congress in Mumbai, but there is a fear of the AIMIM stealing muslim vote this time. The Congress has lost the Hindi speaking voters (especially from UP) to the BJP after the rise of Modi and Yogi in politics. BJP is using Yogi Adityanath for campaigning in urban areas like Mumbai in this assembly election. The BJP had the captive Gujarati speaking vote bank and shared a significant of the Marathi speaking vote bank in Mumbai.
With the BJP-Sena yuti (युती) having being firmed up, the Congress cannot hope for more than 3-4 seats in Mumbai. The likely winners from the Congress in Mumbai are Varsha Gaikwad (Dharavi), Amin Patel (Mumbadevi), Arif Naseem Khan (Chandivali). Zeeshan Siddiqui (son of ex MLA Baba Siddiqui) has a chance of winning in Bandra East, where the Sena faces a rebel in form of their current sitting MLA Trupti Sawant, who was denied a ticket. Congress has already lost sitting MLA Kalidas Kolambkar (Wadala) to the BJP. Also the Congress MLA from Malad West Aslam Sheikh will lose this time to the BJP. Aslam Sheikh had recently tried to gain entry in the BJP, but was blocked by the RSS. This indicates that Sheikh is not confident of his victory on a Congress ticket.
The NCP is practically non-existent in Mumbai and were always dependent on two-three leaders like Sachin Ahir, Nawab Malik and Sanjay Dina Patil who would win due to coalition with the Congress. Now Ahir and Patil have joined the Sena. In 2014, the NCP fought alone and could not win a single seat in Mumbai. The same story would be repeated this time, despite the NCP being in alliance with the Congress.
The Congress has been weak in Thane and Konkan, in the last ten odd years. Narayan Rane was their only mainstay and his leaving the Congress has made them extinct in Konkan. The Congress could draw a blank in Thane-Konkan region. Sharad Pawar had invested a lot of time and his political capital in the Thane-Konkan region in the last twenty years. The NCP won 6 seats and 9 seats in the Thane-Konkan region in 2009 and 2004 respectively. However, a lot of leaders have left the NCP from this region. The prominent names in this list includes Ganesh Naik and family (joined BJP), Mahadu Barora (joined Sena), Jyoti Kalani (joined BJP), Bhaskar Jadhav (joined Sena). This means that the NCP will win maximum two-three seats in the Thane-Konkan belt. Only sure winner from the NCP is Jitendra Awhad in minority dominated Mumbra-Kalva. Aditi Tatkare (daughter of Raigad MP Sunil Tatkare) has a good chance of winning in Shrivardhan assembly constituency (Raigad). She is facing an imported Sena candidate Vinod Ghosalkar (ex Sena MLA from Dahisar assembly seat in Mumbai).
The Congress-NCP have small allies in this region. The Samajwadi Party led by Abu Azmi in Maharashtra is contesting the Mankhurd-Shivajinagar seat. Azmi is the sitting MLA from this seat and is likely to win again. The Bahujan Vikas Aghadi (BVA) of Hitendra Thakur currently holds the seats of Nalasopara, Vasai and Boisar. The BVA is likely to retain the Nalasopara and Vasai seats this time. There is a possibility of the BVA supporting BJP in a post poll scenario, in case Fadnavis wants to go for 145 seats of own. In this case the BJP may take the help of independents and smaller parties like the BVA.
Similarly the Peasants and Workers Party of India (PWPI) is a family run party with strength in the Raigad district. They are in contest in the assembly seats of Panvel, Uran, Pen and Alibag. PWPI is expected to win the Pen (पेण) and Alibag seats and provide tough fight in the Uran assembly seat. It remains to be seen what is the impact of major infrastructure projects like the Navi Mumbai International Airport (coming up near Panvel) and the Trans Harbour Link (near JNPT) on the seats in this region.
Thus, the UPA (along with small allies) can only hope to get about 10-12 seats out of the 75 seats in the Mumbai, Thane and Konkan regions. This means that the BJP-Shiv Sena will garner 63-65 seats in this region. This means the NDA needs only 80/82 seats out of the remaining 213 seats in the rest of the regions in Maharashtra. This stupendous performance of the NDA in the greater Konkan area makes it difficult for the Congress and NCP, in their endeavour to prevent the NDA from getting a majority. The NDA is ahead in North Maharashtra, Vidarbha and Marathwada regions. Also the NDA is slightly ahead in the Congress-NCP bastion of Western Maharashtra.
In conclusion, the “Konkan factor” will play a big role in easing the NDA to power in Maharashtra. With a good cushion in the greater Konkan region, the NDA needs to put in a decent performance in the other regions to get a simple majority. Good performance in two of the remaining four regions would ease the NDA past 200 seats.