September 23, 2009 1:41:15 am
October 13 is a critical day for most of the players in Maharashtra politics. The MNS may finally find a place in state politics and Raj Thackeray may take over his uncles mantle and undo the Shiv Sena. The day will also indicate if the Thackerays have been able to transform the emotional Marathi manoos agenda into a political vision with electoral benefit. This plank may ignite passions,but citizens seldom make their electoral choices on one single issue. Evidence from National Election Survey (NES) 2009 (a post-poll survey conducted during the Lok Sabha elections by CSDS) reveal that though 78 per cent of the respondents agree that people from Maharashtra must have priority in employment,their voting preferences did not show much variation.
The Shiv Sena and the BJP have tried to corner the government over the Mumbai terrorist attacks,but they would also be surprised to know that 44 per cent of the respondents were satisfied with the governments counter-terrorism measures after the Mumbai attacks; only 21 per cent expressed dissatisfaction. NES 2009 also showed that issues like farmers suicides,price rise and OBC reservations have an influence over voters,but just a tiny variation in voting behaviour suggests that the BJP-Shiv Senas Mumbai-Thane-Pune-centric oppositional politics proved disastrous for them as they failed to convert these sentiments into votes.
The alliance never looked like a unified opposition and their seat-sharing formulae seemed nothing more than an arrangement where prominent leaders of both parties could win. The remaining few in Mumbai-Thane-Pune was damaged by the junior Thackeray. Although the MNS could only manage 4 per cent of the total votes in the state in 2009,its voteshare was 21 per cent in 9 seats in the Mumbai-Thane region. The MNS is planning to contest 110 assembly seats and they will definitely test the influence of the BJP-Shiv Sena in no less than 80 seats in Mumbai,Thane,Kalyan,Bhivandi,Pune,Maval,Nashik and Nagpur. These forms 30 per cent of all seats in the state legislature,and it is strange that Uddhav toured rural Maharashtra when the Shiv Sena had to bargain for more seats in urban areas,despite knowing that the BJP performs better there.
The Congress monopoly in state politics has been challenged only once in 1995-1999 when the Shiv Sena-BJP managed to take advantage of religious polarisation in the state. This time around,the Congress-NCP strongholds of Konkan,Western Maharshtra and Marathwada are witnessing strained relations among the alliance partners at the local level. The farmers unrest and the Raju Shetty factor are hurting the NCP-Congress in their pocket borough. For the NCP,especially Sharad Pawar,this election is a do or die matter as the old warrior prepares the ground for his daughter. A good showing in these elections would facilitate power-sharing for his followers after their dismal performance in the 2009 Lok Sabha Elections.
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The BSP and the RLDF (an alliance of more than dozen parties) may not have a state-wide impact,but their capability to divide Muslim votes may prove lethal for the Congress- NCP in closely fought constituencies. There are 38 assembly constituencies where Muslim voters may tilt the equation. Generally the Shiv Sena and BJP have an edge over their opponents in upper caste,Maratha,Maratha-Kunbi and OBC votes but the NCP and the Congress lead in Dalit,Adivasi and Muslim sections. It is here that the BSP and RLDF can cause jitters in the ruling faction. There are about 50 seats where the Dalit population is more than 15 per cent and around 30 seats where Adivasi population is more than 20 per cent. As a more localised caste alignments unfold,it is making political equations more uncertain.
The BJP-Shiv Sena combine was confined to Mumbai-Thane and Konkan since 1998,but in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections Konkan,North Maharshtra and Western Vidharbha have emerged as a Shiv Sena-BJP stronghold. While Western Maharashtra and East Vidharbha was an NCP-INC fortress,Marathwada remained fragmented and Mumbai Thane have come to them by default due to the MNS.
But the equations may change, as it did for the BJP-Shiv Sena. Despite having the edge in the 2004 parliamentary elections,North Maharashtra and East Vidharbha became the Waterloo for the BJP and Mumbai Thane for the Shiv Sena. Thus,the Congress must realise that the May 2009 results were dictated by the national mood. The BJP-Shiv Sena needs to find issues close to people and exploit the ten years of anti-incumbency. Raj Thackeray meanwhile,just needs to make a start. Who knows,luck may favour him,as the battle-scarred veterans of Maharashtra politics are ageing fast.
The writer is with Lokniti,CSDS
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