The Opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance’s unanimous resolve to put up a united fight in the 2024 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in Maharashtra is set to pose a major challenge to the ruling coalition of the BJP and Eknath Shinde-led rebel Shiv Sena faction.
In its first meeting after the BJP toppled the Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA government in collaboration with the Shinde Sena, the MVA Tuesday decided that the Uddhav-led Sena, NCP and Congress will contest both the coming Assembly and Lok Sabha polls in the state together.
Evidently, the MVA constituents have decided to stick to each other with an overriding agenda to oust the BJP from power. The leaders of the three allies were candid in admitting that a divided MVA would give the BJP a cake-walk at the hustings. Despite setting ambitious electoral targets for itself, the BJP reckons that if the Uddhav Sena,
NCP and Congress fight the coming elections together the move would consolidate their support bases, making the saffron party’s battle tougher.
BJP insiders said that the party has already swung into action to redraw its election strategy accordingly. The saffron party believes that along with a strong agenda to appeal to the people, it will also have to get its electoral maths right.
The BJP central leadership has set for its Maharashtra unit a target of 42-plus seats out of the total 48 Lok Sabha seats and 200-plus of the 288 Assembly seats in the state. A senior BJP leader, requesting anonymity, said, “One of the reasons why BJP was desperate to break the MVA government was to unsettle them.”
During the tenure of the MVA dispensation, there were mainly two views within the state BJP over the party’s role. A BJP section wanted the party to play the role of an aggressive Opposition before taking on the MVA in the 2024 polls. It felt that while the BJP leaders, particularly the then Opposition leader Devendra Fadnavis, would keep “exposing the MVA government’s failings”, the government’s anti-incumbency would also work to the party’s advantage. However, another, more-dominant BJP section was of the view that if the MVA completes its full five-year tenure it would establish the alliance electorally at the grass roots, which will make the task of dislodging the MVA more difficult for the party.
A BJP leader said, “In 1995, Shiv Sena and BJP came to power in Maharashtra. But in 1999, despite having the numbers their alliance lost the opportunity as they were caught in power tussle for the CM post,” pointing to the move of the Congress and the NCP to then swiftly reach out to smaller parties and Independents to form their coalition government that ruled the state continuously for 15 years.
Turning a new leaf, the BJP sought to exploit the rifts within the MVA and succeeded in splitting the Shiv Sena that earned it numbers in the form of 40 MLAs and 12 MPs affiliated to the Shinde Sena besides a new government. However, for the BJP, one key question that will haunt it in the run-up to the 2024 polls is, how much of its ground the Uddhav Sena will be able to regain in electoral alliance with the Congress and the NCP.
After the MVA’s meeting, ex-CM Uddhav said, “We three parties fought a pandemic like Covid-19, which brought the world to its knees, successfully. This obstacle (Shinde-Fadnavis government) is a very minor one compared to that. We shall overcome and we standing together will send a message to the country.” Similar sentiments were echoed by the Congress and the NCP.
While its alliance with the Shinde Sena may have returned the party to power, its 2024 goals would remain an uphill task for the BJP in the state. Given the simmering discontent within sections of the two camps, the BJP will have to do a tightrope walk in the run-up to the polls. When the two allies enter seat-sharing negotiations, CM Shinde is set to drive a hard bargain to get his faction’s pound of flesh, creating intra-party challenges for the BJP – the senior partner with 106 MLAs.
In the 2019 elections to the 288-member state Assembly, the BJP garnered 105 seats with 36.47 per cent vote share, Shiv Sena 56 seats and 19.44 per cent vote, Congress 44 seats and 15.28 per cent vote, and NCP 54 seats and 18.75 per cent vote. Before the Sena split, the MVA accounted for 154 seats and 53.47 per cent vote.
At their meeting the MVA allies could however not reach a consensus on fighting the local body polls together. Clearly, each of them will try to consolidate and expand their vote banks then in order to strengthen their hands during their seat-sharing talks for the Lok Sabha and the Assembly polls. A senior NCP leader said, “In principle we have agreed to remain together. But seat-sharing is going to be a roller-coaster ride for us.”
Several questions are doing the rounds in the MVA camp. Will Uddhav accept the role of junior partner in seat-sharing? Would the Congress accept a secondary role vis-a-vis the NCP and the Uddhav Sena. With the NCP having set its own target of 100 seats in the 2024 Assembly polls, the party may not settle for anything less than a share of 120 seats for itself, which may, in turn, not be acceptable for the Congress and the Sena, a former minister wondered.