Sunday, May 28, 2023

Behind Maharashtra BJP push for early polls: Modi factor, Uddhav Sena base, drought fear

BJP central leadership is weighing pros and cons of state unit's proposal for simultaneous Assembly and Lok Sabha polls, although in principle it has been against advancing polls

PM Modi uddhav thackeray maharashtra pollsPM Narendra Modi and Uddhav Thackeray. (FIle Photos)

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s Maharashtra unit has urged the party high command to consider its proposal for advancing the state Assembly elections by about five-six months so that it could be held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha polls due in April-May 2024.

The BJP central leadership is weighing the pros and cons of this proposal, although in principle it has generally been against the idea of advancing polls.

Highly-placed sources in the Maharashtra BJP said, “The party central leadership had earlier indicated it would ideally not like to mix up the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls. Holding simultaneous elections would burden the state unit as well the central leadership as they would have to take up the task of double campaigning.”

Yet, the Maharashtra BJP is pressing for simultaneous polls, party insiders said. Its rationale for this proposal is based on various factors. First, it acknowledges that the Opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) comprising of the Congress, NCP and Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) will be a formidable alliance in the coming polls. The MVA’s social arithmetic would pose a daunting challenge to the BJP and its ally, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena, in any electoral battle.

The state BJP has also informed the central leadership about the forecast of a drought in the state in 2024. Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis told the state Assembly during the budget session how water scarcity could be a concern this summer while stressing on drought mitigation measures like water conservation.

A key factor weighing on the saffron party’s mind is the point that despite the split in the Sena and the collapse of the Uddhav government the Sena (UBT) has still managed to hold on to its support base at the grassroots level to a significant degree.

A senior BJP functionary requesting anonymity said, “Shinde split Uddhav’s party vertically. He got 40 of 56 Sena MLAs on his side besides 12 out of 18 Lok Sabha MPs. But still Uddhav Sena’s vote bank has not been completely eroded.” It has reinforced the MVA’s remarkable rainbow social coalition that has a significant section of Marathas and OBCs among other communities as its support base.


In the October 2019 Assembly polls, the BJP and the Uddhav-led undivided Shiv Sena contested together as partners against the Congress-NCP alliance, in which out of the state’s 288 seats the BJP won 105 seats, Sena 56, Congress 44 and NCP 56. The partywise vote share then saw the BJP garnering 25.75% votes, Sena 16.41%, NCP 16.71% and Congress 15.87%.

A senior BJP minister in the Shinde cabinet said, “The debate on whether Lok Sabha and Assembly polls should be held separately or together has been going on between our state and central leadership at various fora. It remains inconclusive yet.”

“Our state BJP chief Chandrashekhar Bawankule has toured the state extensively and put the party in election mode. We are ready for early polls. We are prepared for simultaneous polls,” he said.


Explaining the state BJP’s reasoning for advancing Assembly elections to coincide with the general elections, the minister said, “The BJP believes that Narendra Modi’s magic that will appeal to voters in Lok Sabha elections will yield dividends for the party in the Assembly polls too. The parliamentary poll campaign will be at its peak. And we can take its mileage in the Assembly elections too.”

The BJP also apprehends that in the event of a possible drought condition during the next summer there could be greater unrest among farmers, which might dent its prospects if Assembly polls are held separately in October 2024.

The BJP believes the seat-sharing between the MVA constituents would not be a smooth affair as there could be intense struggle between them for every seat leading to denial of tickets to a sizeable number of ticket aspirants and even sitting MLAs, which the saffron party can exploit to its advantage.

State industries minister Uday Samant said, “At least 10-12 MLAs from Congress, NCP, Sena (UBT) are in touch with us. Just before the elections they will emerge as our candidates.”

The Opposition is also tracking the BJP’s gambit on simultaneous elections. Senior NCP leader and Leader of the Opposition Ajit Pawar said: “I have no official information, but it is my guess that BJP would like to hold Lok Sabha and Assembly elections simultaneously.”


A month ago, while addressing party workers in home town Nagpur, Fadnavis exhorted them to get used to “multi-tasking” till 2024. Although his message was in the context of organisational work, the poll preparations undertaken by the party across the state, including shortlisting of candidates, is a pointer to its keenness for early polls.

The Shinde-Fadnavis dispensation, which took charge nine months ago, may have fast-tracked various policies and programmes but it is still looking for a narrative to strike a chord with the masses in the polls. The operation that the party undertook along with the rebel Shinde Sena faction toppled the MVA government, but in a worry for the ruling camp the Uddhav Sena has continued to remain a force to reckon with.

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There is however also a view within the BJP that voters could not be taken for granted. A BJP strategist said, “In 1999, we had advanced the Assembly polls by six months. The simultaneous elections proved fatal. While BJP-Sena did well in Lok Sabha winning 28 out of 48 seats, in Assembly polls Congress-NCP along with smaller parties and independents won 146 seats. And NDA was reduced to just 131 seats.”

First published on: 21-03-2023 at 18:38 IST
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