Mitron, I continue with my new tradition of getting guest posts every Sunday and today we have a particularly juicy one. Now Maharashtra is a state whose politics has always fascinated me. On the one hand, Maharashtra is a deep saffron state, at par with Gujarat. On the other hand, until 2014, there was perhaps no other state in India that had been as steadfast in its support of the Congress. It never ceases to amaze me that Congress has always ruled Maharashtra straight since independence till 2014, with 4 years of BJP-Sena government in between.
And in 2014, Maharashtra flipped to the saffron party. And flipped in a way that the state has become “Congress mukt” at a pace comparable to Andhra Pradesh. Basically, it is the Congress evaporating in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra that ruled out the possibility of a 2004 like result in 2019.
Behind this miracle is master blaster Amit Shah who pulled off not one but two flips: first overturning the Congress boat and then overturning the antiquated BJP Sena power equation. And I have never hidden my admiration for CM Devendra Fadnavis who followed up with a political innings comparable to the VVS Laxman / Rahul Dravid partnership in the famous Eden Garden Test against Australia. Fadnavis has negotiated everything: a difficult ally, detractors within the party and some of the most vicious attempts at starting a caste war in the state. Had he made even one political mistake, the BJP could have been clean bowled in Maharashtra. But at no stage did Fadnavis even give the opposition a chance. So much so that by 2019, it was clear that BJP would have a cakewalk in Maharashtra.
This is more of an overview, perhaps the best I can do as an outsider. But for a real understanding with facts and numbers, I am happy to fall back on true Maharashtrian Mandar Sawant. Mandar is an IT professional living in Mumbai. He runs his own blog (https://www.mandarsawant.com) and is interested in politics, infrastructure, sports, passive income and personal finance. And you should definitely look him up on Twitter @MandarSawant184.
Among other things, here is a chance to read more about the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA), which I would say is the political startup to watch from the 2019 elections.
Again, usual guest blog disclaimers apply. All opinions below are those of the guest blogger and have not been edited by me in any way.
Maharashtra politics is currently going through a phase that can best be described as the silence before a huge storm. The assembly elections are scheduled for mid- October this year, the notification for which would be issued in September. This means that there are two months to go for active campaigning to start for the assembly elections in Maharashtra. Currently all the parties and alliances are trying to micro-analyse the results of the recent Lok Sabha results and plan the strategy for the upcoming assembly elections. A lot of things are yet to fall in place for the final line-up to be drawn for the assembly elections.
On one side are the BJP and Shiv Sena (Sena) who bickered for five years, even though they were in government in state and centre. They buried the hatchet just before the Lok Sabha election and retained their tally of 41 out of 48 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Incidentally the seat tally of the BJP and Sena stayed the same as in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, at 23 and 18 seats respectively. Given the magnitude of the Lok Sabha election, a win in the assembly election is a foregone conclusion for the NDA alliance. But there is a big catch in this game. BJP has emerged as the big brother in Maharashtra, upstaging the Sena in the 2014 assembly elections. The oldest alliance of the BJP had broken down and both parties fought the 2014 assembly election bitterly against each other. The BJP managed to win 122 while the Shiv Sena got 63 seats of their own. For the 2019 assembly polls, they have decided to fight together but there is likely to be some acrimony, till they seal the seat sharing agreement.
In principle, it has been decided that the BJP and Sena would fight 135 seats each in the assembly polls. The smaller allies like the Republican Party of India (Athavale), Rashtriya Samaj Paksha of Mahadev Jankar and the new outfit Rayat Kranti Sangathana launched by Sadabhau Khot would contest on the remaining 18 seats. The actual seat sharing is going to be a difficult task. This is because BJP and Sena won many seats which were traditionally fought by the other ally as part of the NDA alliance. For example, the Goregaon assembly seat in Mumbai was always represented by the Sena till 2009. In 2014, Vidya Thakur of the BJP defeated Sena veteran Subhash Desai to win this seat. Ironically both Thakur (state minister) and Desai (cabinet minister) are ministers in the Fadnavis government. Sena which is likely to elevate Subhash Desai as the Deputy CM after the polls might ask for the Goregaon assembly seat.
The BJP could be in a dilemma as leaving seats they had won would upset the party workers and leaders. BJP had swept 8/8 seats in Pune and 3/3 seats in Nashik city. Leaving any of these seats for the Sena would be tough for the BJP. But the BJP might have to do some seat transfer as well. Some of the incoming leaders in the BJP from the Congress and NCP, want to fight seats that have traditionally been in the Sena quota. BJP would have to get these seats from the Sena. How well the NDA handles this bargaining of seats will decide if it could emerge victorious in the assembly polls and the margin of the victory. On the other hand, the Congress and NCP are still licking their wounds after a resounding defeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
This defeat rankles them more because no less than Sharad Pawar led their charge in Lok Sabha polls. The fact that even a wily politician like Pawar could not stand against the Modi tsunami, bodes ill for the UPA alliance. The assembly polls have always been won by the party or alliance which won the Lok Sabha since 2004, given the short period of time between these polls. Also, the extent of internal haemorrhage in Congress and NCP is not known as of now. Many Congress and NCP leaders and MLAs are waiting to desert their parties and join the BJP or the Shiv Sena depending on the seat they want to fight from. They would join the party whose quota has their desired seat. Already MLAs like Abdul Sattar, Jaikumar Gore, Kalidas Kolambkar are waiting to ditch the Congress party. The Congress LoP Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil has jumped camp already and landed a cabinet ministry in the Fadnavis government.
Congress which was almost annihilated in the Lok Sabha (just about managed to win the Chandrapur seat with a candidate imported from the Sena) is reduced to be the Muslim league in the crucial Mumbai-Thane belt. This belt has 60 seats and plays an important role in government formation in the state. The NCP led by Sharad Pawar is a loose conglomeration of powerful local chieftains. The spectre of sitting in the opposition for five more years may cause many of these chieftains to jump ship. Pawar thus faces an existential crisis.
The recent judgement by the Bombay High Court upholding the Maratha reservation has come as a big boost to the CM Devendra Fadnavis. He has managed to do what no Maratha Chief Minister from the Congress-NCP could do in the last 15 years. The agitating Maratha community organisations that blocked his entry in Pandharpur in 2018, plan to do a public felicitation of the Chief Minister this year during the Ashadi Ekadashi.
The larger import of this development is that many Maratha leaders have started moving to the BJP and slowly the Maratha voters have started deserting the Congress-NCP for the BJP (and the Sena). This could deal a death blow to Sharad Pawar’s Maratha politics in the long term. The Congress faces demands of increased seats from the NCP, following its better success than the Congress in the Lok Sabha election. The NCP won four seats on its own and it’s supported independent won one seat. The Congress could win only one seat.
A good monsoon or lack of it would have an influence on the voting in key areas like Marathwada, Vidarbha and North Maharashtra. The Lok Sabha election already gave an indication that drought situation led to erosion in support for BJP and Shiv Sena in Vidarbha and Marathwada. The Prakash Ambedkar led Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) in alliance with AIMIM of Owaisi brothers hit the Congress-NCP on seven seats, giving a helping hand to the NDA. These seven seats were in Marathwada, Vidarbha and erstwhile bastions of Cong-NCP in Western Maharashtra. If not for the VBA, the NDA alliance could have lost these seven seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha.
Muslims largely voted for the Congress except in Aurangabad, where they voted overwhelmingly for AIMIM candidate. However, with the Congress in a very bad shape post the Lok Sabha election it is likely that the Muslims will look at other options across the state and especially in urban centres like Mumbai, Thane and Nagpur. This is bad news for the Congress-NCP. The BJP-Sena have already garnered upper caste, OBC and non-Mahar SC voters. The VBA got most of the Mahar (neo Buddhist) votes in the Lok Sabha election and the same thing is expected to happen in the assembly polls. Now the loss of a sizeable chunk of the muslim votes could aggravate their situation. Already the loss of a chunk of Maratha votes is a foregone conclusion.
Prakash Ambedkar has already slammed the door shut on the Congress which was ideating about an alliance with the VBA. Prakash Ambedkar recently said that in case of an alliance, he would offer 40 seats to the Congress.
His intention was to humiliate the Congress which fights 170 odd seats in Maharashtra in alliance with the NCP. Ambedkar is eyeing the neo Buddhist and muslim votes, which would make him a major player in Maharashtra. That explains his sticking with the AIMIM though it did not quite help him with the muslim vote in the Lok Sabha polls. Ambedkar expects that the muslim voter would see the weakened Congress not capable to challenge the BJP-Sena juggernaut and could flock to the VBA-AIMIM.
This leaves the joker in the pack, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) led by Raj Thackeray. The MNS sat out of the Lok Sabha election and Raj actively campaigned for the Congress-NCP but to no avail. Sharad Pawar is positive towards having an alliance with the MNS, but the Congress cannot be seen to have aligned with the MNS. The MNS history of violence towards the Hindi speaking working class people in Mumbai could drive the rest of that vote bank away from the Congress (rise of Modi and Yogi already has affected the Congress support among this demographic).
Thus, the MNS is condemned to fighting the assembly election alone in selective urban seats and they may be very fortunate to get a single MLA elected. Personally, I see them at zero seats in 2019 and no signs of revival till 2024. With the once mighty Congress and powerful regional satrap like Sharad Pawar struggling before the BJP storm, Raj does not stand a chance.
In conclusion, the Maharashtra politics would come to life in the next 45 days when alliances start firming up and seat distribution is discussed. The migration of leaders from the Congress and NCP towards the BJP-Sena would start in right earnest. The two main players who would drive this election cycle and impact the results are Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Shiv Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray. They share a great chemistry and how well they handle the seat sharing would ensure whether the NDA government wins 160 or 220 seats (out of 288 assembly seats).
As for the Congress-NCP they need to settle their own seat sharing first, tie-up with a lot many small sub-regional parties and hope that the BJP-Shiv Sena screw up their seat sharing talks and face the elections disunited or separately. Prakash Ambedkar is in a win win situation as currently he has only one MLA in the Maharashtra assembly. Everything is a gain for him. But one thing is clear that Modi-Shah-Fadnavis-Uddhav would not allow a Congress revival in a revenue rich state like Maharashtra.