Ashok Chavan’s miracle in 2009

Maharashtra assembly election 2009 was a watershed election in the history of the state. Congress and NCP won their third successive term after 1999 and 2004. This election happened in the background of the horrific 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai (in 2008) and political commentators lamented the fact that the terror attack did not weigh in on the result.

The Aghadi won exactly the majority mark 144 seats (Congress- 82 and NCP-62) while the dispirited opposition Yuti won 90 seats (BJP – 46 and Shiv Sena – 44). The BJP later went on to win the by poll in Khadakwasla when the seat was vacated due to the death of the sitting MNS MLA Ramesh Vanjale, to take the yuti tally to 91. Sena won the Bhiwandi by poll in 2010 as Abu Azmi of the SP who won two seats vacated the Bhiwandi seat.

While the numbers suggest a comprehensive victory for the Congress-NCP alliance, but the truth is very different. 2009 saw the emergence of a new political force in Maharashtra, the MNS or the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena led by Raj Thackeray. Till 2006 Raj’s identity was only that of the nephew of Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray. He had inherited the aggressive mannerisms of Balasaheb and was an eloquent speaker like his uncle. Raj is also said to have acquired the temper of his late father Shrikant Thackeray. Many in the Shiv Sena and political observers in Maharashtra saw Raj as the political successor of his uncle. Though Balasaheb in typical Congress style got his son Uddhav anointed as the successor with Raj himself proposing the name of Uddhav. Typical court intrigue forced Raj to leave the Shiv Sena and form his own political party in 2006.

Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray

The first foray in electoral political was a disaster for Raj as the MNS which fought the 2007 BMC election on the plank of development and Marathi pride could not get into double digits. Inevitably he course corrected after the loss and development went out of the window. MNS started to talk only about regional pride. He started protesting about railway exams in Maharashtra which were advertised in every newspaper except in Marathi newspapers. He also spoke of migrants especially from the Eastern region (read UP ad Bihar) taking up low skilled jobs in the urban areas of Maharashtra.

State politics was in a flux at that time with the ruling Congress-NCP becoming highly unpopular but at the same time the Sena-BJP being listless and not able to put up a fight. The BJP centrally under the leadership of L K Advani was no match for the UPA in the Lok Sabha 2009 polls. The Vidhan sabha elections in Maharashtra were to be held about six months after the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

Here come the two main protagonists, Chief Minister Ashok Chavan and his cabinet minister Kripashankar Singh. Congress played a smart game in the urban areas of MMR (Mumbai-Thane-Raigad), Pune and Nashik by counter consolidating the Hindi speaking voters. The MNS took a decent chunk of the Marathi speaking voters especially women and youth. His appeal was a combination of his aggression towards migrants and the fact that Raj was a fresh political face among the worn out faces on the government and opposition side. Urban voters who were fatigued by voting either for the yuti or the aghadi in several elections, warmed up to the new party on the block.

The MNS won only 5.7% votes across the state as they did not fight even half of the 288 seats. However they won 13 assembly seats in their first attempt. More importantly the MNS caused defeat of Shiv-Sena BJP combine on approx. 23 seats. Thus MNS stole 36 seats from the Shiv Sena BJP combine (excluding Khadakwasla which was later won by the BJP in a by poll). The Yuti had won 30.3% votes while the Aghadi had 37.7% votes. If we add the MNS votes to the Yuti, the opposition came to 36% votes. 90% of the MNS voters were Sena or BJP voters (including yours truly) so we can safely add the MNS votes the yuti tally. This leaves a miniscule difference of just 1.7% votes between the two alliances.

Importantly in terms of seats, the Sena-BJP would have achieved the tally of 128 seats while the Congress-NCP would have been down to 122 seats (loss of 22 seats as can be seen in the table below). There were approx. half a dozen seats which Sena-BJP lost due to parties like the RPI(A), Rashtriya Samaj Paksha (RSP) or independents. These parties were to later become BJP allies in 2014. It was highly likely that the small parties and independents would have gravitated towards the Sena-BJP as the mandate would have been against the Congress-NCP after two terms in power. There were 24 independents (again half dozen of them Sena or BJP rebels) and about 18 MLAs of small parties, many of whom could have favored the yuti.

Below is the list of seats which the Sena-BJP yuti lost due to the MNS (seats where the winning margin is less than the seats polled by the MNS),

Yuti seat losses due to the MNS

Now it’s not officially known if Ashok Chavan financed the MNS election campaign which is something on which we can only guess. Ashok Chavan’s masterstroke during the Maharashtra Assembly election of 2009 to use Raj Thackeray to electorally damage the Shiv Sena-BJP is well known, but he has not been credited enough for this. This led to an unprecedented third term for the Congress in the state (rarity after 1996 era). Ashok Chavan did succeed in winning another term in 2009 and became the Chief Minister again, till he was ousted following the Adarsh scam. But he certainly used the phenomenon of Raj Thackeray to alter the course of Maharashtra politics. Below are ten implications of and trivia about the Maharashtra 2009 assembly election result,

  • If MNS was not in the picture, the yuti would have likely formed the government with the Shiv Sena having it’s third chief minister in the state (after Manohar Joshi and Narayan Rane). The Sena tally would have been at 69 seats (14 seats lost due to the MNS + 10 seats won by MNS which had Sena candidates + 1 won in by poll). BJP would have been at 59 (9 seats lost due to MNS + 3 seats won by MNS which had BJP candidates + 1 won in by poll). Sena chief minister would have altered the political history of the state as the yuti would have fought 2014 as an incumbent with Sena face as the CM.
  • Devendra Fadnavis would never have been the CM of Maharashtra in that scenario. Most likely Gopinath Munde or another senior leader like Nitin Gadkari might have been the deputy CM in the government, given that BJP was in the opposition nationally. Hence 2009 failure indirectly played a part in the rise of Devendra Fadnavis. The BJP won more seats than the Sena and got the LoP post. Devendra Fadnavis’s work as the state party president in run up to the 2014 election, led to him being noticed by the central BJP leadership.
  • The Sena was the biggest loser of the MNS assault with a loss of 23 seats (or approx. 50% of won seats). Thus Raj Thackeray using Amitabh Bacchan’s dialogue ” Ek mara, lekin solid maara after the 2009 election result rings true. MNS won more than two dozen corporators in the subsequent 2012 BMC election.
  • Uddhav took this loss and insult seriously and rebuffed MNS attempts at an alliance in the later elections. Sena also poached MNS corporators after the 2012 and 2017 BMC elections. The cousins have never patched up again. In fact Raj has adopted Hindutva agenda now to fill the space vacated by Sena which went towards the secular camp.
  • Loss of Maharashtra would have been a body blow for the UPA 2 government which was to eventually get destabilized from 2012 onwards after the Anna Hazare andolan and the Nirbhaya case.
  • MNS won seats or defeated the yuti in the MMR (Mumbai-Thane-Raigad), Pune, Nashik-Jalgaon areas as well as in the Marathwada districts of Aurangabad, Hingoli and Jalna.
  • Raj Thackeray’s party became the largest party in the Nashik municipal corporation in 2012 and got the mayor post with the outside support of the NCP (Pawar at work again). Though he spoke of development blueprint, his party could not achieve much in Nashik and the events at the centre combined with emergence of Narendra Modi at the national stage saw his party losing support. He has now been reduced to a vote cutter party and it is likely that the BJP would use him as one in the 2022 BMC election.
  • Raj failed to build a second rung leadership and infact actively scared them away. This inability to create new leaders cost the MNS dearly and the MNS just had a single MLA each in the 2014 and 2019 election.
  • MNS candidate Ram Kadam defeated Poonam Mahajan in Ghatkopar West seat. Poonam later went on to become a two time MP from the Mumbai North Central seat. Similarly MNS candidate in Bhokardan (Jalna) caused the defeat of wife of Raosaheb Danve who was BJP state president after 2014 and is currently a MoS in the Modi government at the centre
  • Vote cutter parties like the MNS, Samajwadi party, AIMIM and BSP have a big history in Maharashtra and they have hit either the yuti or the Aghadi in different election cycles.

About the author

%d bloggers like this: