The ruling BJP-Shiv Sena alliance returned to power in Maharashtra Thursday, winning 161 of the 288 seats in the state Assembly. But the poll results did not go according to script with the BJP suffering reverses in Vidarbha and Marathwada and, in the process, managing 105 seats — way below the halfway mark of 144 which it hoped to attain on its own, and less than its strength of 122 in the previous House.
With the results in, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, only the second Chief Minister in Maharashtra in 47 years after Vasantrao Naik to complete the full five-year term, conceded his party’s failure to contain “rebels” — at least 30 rebels of the BJP and Sena upset their calculations. He said the people have given the alliance a decisive mandate to form the government for a second consecutive term.
But Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray lost no time to “remind” the BJP about the “equal” or “50-50 power-sharing” formula for all berths in the new government. This was also interpreted as Senaspeak for rotating the post of the Chief Minister.
“We all know that when the alliance was forged before the Lok Sabha polls, the 50:50 formula was decided. There is no need to hide it now. It was also decided that seat sharing would be 144-144. BJP state president Chandrakant Patil had then said I should understand the BJP’s problems in seat sharing. I understood their problems and accepted a smaller share of the seats. But if their problems are going to increase, then I can’t understand all their problems,” Thackeray told reporters at the Sena headquarters in Dadar.
He said he needs to expand his party. “So, all senior leaders from both parties will sit together and we will take a decision on the formula. Then we will stake claim to government formation,” he said. This, he said, was not a “warning” to the BJP but “just a reminder” of what had been discussed.
Earlier, when the results were coming in, Fadnavis spoke to Thackeray. He defended the BJP’s performance: “In 2014, the party contested 260 seats and won 122. Whereas now, it contested 164 and won 102 (that figure changed to 105 later).” In the past, the “strike rate” was 47% and vote share 28%.
This time, the “strike rate” jumped to 70% while the vote share was 25.75%. For the Sena though, the score of 56 was a disappointment. Its “strike rate” was just 45% as against BJP’s 70%. Describing the elections as an “eye opener”, Thackeray said, “I feel proud that people of the state have kept democracy alive. When some people started walking with some assumptions, it appears people brought them to ground reality. It is a lesson for all political parties.”
What came in the way of BJP plans was the pushback by Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar in the face of action by enforcement agencies against him and his colleague Praful Patel in the last days of the election campaign. His NCP won 54 seats, a gain of 13, compared to the 2014 assembly polls. Its ally Congress, which almost seemed to have given up, also bagged 44 seats, two more than in 2014. Together, they neared the three-digit figure, lending the Opposition more voice in the House.
During the campaign, Pawar took on the central and state leadership of the BJP. This helped NCP retain sway over western Maharashtra. In fact, he salvaged the situation for the Congress which appeared leaderless throughout the campaign. “The mandate is for us to sit in Opposition,” Pawar admitted. But he took a swipe at the BJP-Sena for inducting rebels of the rival camp. “The elections have shown people are not ready to accept turncoats who desert the party.”
Fadnavis too acknowledged that rising aspirations of party workers had many rebels entering the fray. “We could not contain this… But almost 15 rebels who have been elected had expressed their support to the alliance post polls. We are considering their support as they are our party workers,” he said.
Although the BJP has kept its analysis on hold for now, the results show that the party didn’t fare too well in Vidarbha, which is Fadnavis’s backyard, and Marathwada, besides western Maharashtra.
In cotton-growing Vidarbha, where the BJP had peaked with 44 of 62 seats in 2014, it lost nine seats. Similarly, in western Maharashtra where it won 25 of 72, it lost nine seats. The party lost three seats each in north Maharashtra and Marathwada. Former Congress Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan said: “The BJP’s poor performance shows the impact of economic slowdown and rising unemployment. The people has rejected central BJP leaders’ emotive campaign on cultural nationalism.”
In fact, a section of the state BJP believes that the central leadership’s aggressive campaign focus on Article 370 was a tactical mistake. “Especially, at a time when the entire Marathwada and western Maharashtra were badly hit by drought and floods,” a state BJP leader said.