Maharashtra results: Opposition is not dead, yet
Weeks before the Maharashtra Assembly election, Sharad Pawar, 79, was staring at the remains of his NCP after the BJP had systematically poached key members in areas that remained Pawar strongholds despite the Modi wave. The BJP scaled up its ambitions to winning 145 seats on its own so that it would not be at the mercy of its alliance partner, Shiv Sena. It proved a bridge too far, although the BJP-Sena did hold on to power.
There were two turning points for Pawar in the run-up to the polls. The first came when he was named by the Enforcement Directorate in a money-laundering case against the Maharashtra Cooperative Bank. He announced he would voluntarily present himself at the ED office in Mumbai. On the given day, NCP supporters swarmed Mumbai, turning it into a Maratha pride moment, while the ED frantically put out a statement that it had not summoned Pawar. He called off his visit to the ED office at the request of the Mumbai police commissioner, but had sent out a strong political message.
It was on the very last day of the campaign that the second turning point arrived. He addressed a widely televised rally for the Satara Lok Sabha bypoll, standing under pelting rain, to thundering applause. The footage went viral overnight. It was NCP’s magic moment, and possibly set a template for the opposition in the state and country.
Maharashtra elections: Nationalism vs local issues
In rallies, the emphasis by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis was mainly on work by his government, but he also ended every meeting with the Centre’s decision to revoke J&K’s special status. In an interview to The Indian Express, Fadnavis said the Kashmir issue had resonance in Maharashtra. In speeches by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, too, the Centre’s action to abate Article 370 was a main pitch. The results indicate it may not have had as much resonance among Maharashtra voters as local issues such as farm distress, and rural indebtedness. In Nashik, the BJP-Sena paid heavily for the government’s onion price control measures. Throughout its campaign, a confident BJP did not address the consequences of the economic slowdown in the country’s most industrialised state.
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SOPS DON’T ALWAYS FETCH VOTES: In the BJP’s calculus, the Maratha quota, granted in 2018, was the silver bullet to winning over Maharashtra’s politically most dominant community. The Marathas had been a mainstay of the Congress and NCP’s voter base but the BJP’s dominance in the Lok Sabha polls appeared to suggest the community had shifted loyalties. The Assembly polls made it clear that the BJP could not take this for granted. Out of 70 seats in Western Maharashtra, a Maratha stronghold, the BJP won only 16 seats, against its 25 of 2014. The promise of the Bharat Ratna to V D Savarkar did not help the BJP quest for dominance either.
Maharashtra results 2019: Gandhis weren’t missed
After the rout in the Lok Sabha elections and the leadership crisis within, the Congress appeared not to be in the fight for the Assembly elections, and was a feeble partner of the NCP. Rahul Gandhi addressed only five meetings, and Sonia Gandhi stayed away from the campaign for health reasons.
It was left to the Maharashtra Congress to make the best out of a bad situation. What may have helped it in constituencies it won was its choice of candidates who were locally well known though they may not have had a state-wide profile. A rudderless Congress, coat-tailing on the NCP, won four more seats than in 2014. In many seats, it also benefited from bad vibes within the BJP-Sena alliance. One of the curiosities of the Congress-NCP alliance was that the two parties did not address a single rally from the same platform but still managed to project a united front. However, despite its improved seat tally, the Congress finished fourth, and its vote share fell from 17.8 per cent to 15.2 per cent.
BJP-Shiv Sena: Divided saffron alliance
From the start, the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance was beset by tensions, born out of BJP’s ambition of finishing the Sena, and the latter’s insistent demand for “equal” power sharing, by which it meant a shared chief ministership, or the deputy chief minister’s post. While Fadnavis and Uddhav Thackeray managed to paper over these issues, the Sena’s acceptance of a lower seat share was a shock to cadres. It was a battlefield between Sena and BJP in many seats.
Tensions within the BJP too played a part, especially in Vidarbha, marked by the sidelining of Nitin Gadkari, and ticket aspirants seen as close to him. On the ground, unhappy RSS cadres are said to have worked for rejected candidates who contested as independents. Also, only 16 of 31 defectors from Congress-NCP to BJP-Sena won, an indicator that not all voters are receptive to party hoppers.
Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis suffers a setback
Fadnavis had outsmarted rivals in 2014 to become the Chief Minister, and defied critics who saw his Brahmin identity as unworkable in a Maratha-dominated political ecosystem. He proved them wrong, along the way deftly dealing with the Marathas by granting them a quota, then breaking their stranglehold by going after cooperatives. This time, his mission was to return the BJP with a near majority of its own, so that it could shake off the Shiv Sena. Instead, the BJP has become more dependent on the Sena than it was. The loss of seats in Vidarbha, his home turf, is another setback to Fadnavis.