The Maharashtra Assembly elections, to be held on October 15, are going to be battle for survival for the ruling Congress-NCP combine, which is facing anti-incumbency after being in the government for 15 long years.
The single-phase elections are equally crucial for the Shiv Sena and BJP as it will determine the degree to which Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity still remains and impacts the Assembly polls. It is also a test for the saffron alliance which has never been able to return to power after its single 1995-1999 tenure.
In terms of number of Assembly seats, Maharashtra (288) is second only to Uttar Pradesh.
The polls will also decide the political fate of leaders like NCP president Sharad Pawar and MNS chief, besides Shiv Sena chief chief Uddhav Thackeray who rode the Modi wave in Lok Sabha polls.
From the Congress, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan is expected to do the firefighting.
“Every electoral battle brings with it a certain element of surprise and challenges. But I am confident that people will judge the good governance and deliver the verdict in favour of Congress and NCP,” Chavan said on Friday.
Notwithstanding the optimism, the challenges are manifold for Congress and NCP in the wake of new permutations and combinations, both socially and politically.
To begin with, Congress and NCP were lagging behind the BJP-led grand alliance by huge margins in 240 out of the total 288 Assembly seats during the Lok Sabha polls held earlier this year.
As part of its strategy, the Congress-NCP combine is again banking on the MNS to play the role of “spoiler” to make dent in the saffron alliance. In 2009 Assembly elections, the MNS not only won 13 seats, but it also delivered an advantage to Congress and NCP by dividing the vote bank of Shiv Sena-BJP combine. The scenario seems set for a repeat this time also, with the MNS having joined hands with Congress and NCP in Nashik to retain control in the municipal corporation. The Raj Thackeray-led party has been on the back foot after its miserable performance in the Lok Sabha elections this year.
In the BJP-Sena camp, the mood is more upbeat. As state BJP president Devendra Fadnavis put it, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi lives in the minds and hearts of the people. His ability to display his steel in just 100 days into governance has further consolidated his image and it will work in Maharashtra.”
“The anti-incumbency working against the Congress-government has certainly given us huge advantage. Political paralysis and corruption charges will also work to our advantage and against the Congress-NCP,” the state BJP chief said.
The biggest worry for the ruling combine is to retain its traditional vote base of dalits (10.6%) and Muslims (10.8%).
Region-wise, Congress faces serious challenges in Vidarbha and Marathwada, where BJP and Sena appear to have made huge inroads during the Lok Sabha polls. Vidarbha (60) and Marathwada (48) together account for 108 Assembly seats.
Similarly, NCP is concerned about changing political equations in western Maharashtra (72 seats), which was always its stronghold.
In north Maharashtra (36 seats), BJP has had an upper hand for the last three successive Assembly polls.
Mumbai (36 seats), Thane (24 seats) and Raigad/Sindhudurg (together having 12 seats) add up to 72 seats, which will make or mar the elections for the Congress and NCP.