How Devendra Fadnavis is cementing the BJP in Maharashtra

If there is one theme that I keep talking about, it is stressing on the difficulty of political parties muscling their way across state borders. It is only during rare political upheavals that parties can grow in geographical reach. All the way until 2009, the BJP continued to function entirely in what I call “Advani territory” : the lands where BJP spread during the Ram Rath yatra. For nearly two decades, the BJP didn’t spread further.

The next expansion of the BJP’s electoral catchment area came in 2014. Modi created new space for the party in Haryana and Assam. He renewed the party in Uttar Pradesh where it’s stream had long run dry. And finally, he spread BJP to every corner of Maharashtra. No more a junior partner to Shiv Sena.

But one huge blow is not enough, definitely not in a massive state like Maharashtra. Modi needed capable generals who would successfully build on the opening that had been created and let the party organization strike roots in every corner of the state. And this is what Devendra Fadnavis has done, which has made me into a fan.

Consider first, the importance of Maharashtra, especially in the Congress scheme of things. While the headlines often go to the rabble rousing politics of Shiv Sena and its hooliganism based cousin MNS, people tend to forget how important Maharashtra is to the Congress ecosystem. Before 2014, the Congress had its Chief Minister in Mumbai for all but the period from 1995-1999. While everyone talks of the spectacular 73/80 in Uttar Pradesh in 2014, the real body blow to the Congress came from Maharashtra, where the NDA swept 42/48 seats. There would likely be several seats among these where Congress has always won since 1952.

I have always seen Maharashtra and (undivided) Andhra Pradesh as the two reserve bunkers of the Congress. The 2004 victory of Sonia Gandhi would simply have been impossible without them. In 2004, the Congress did very poorly in the Hindi heartland, but it was Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh that got them their six seat edge over the BJP. As of now, the Congress has been finished in Andhra Pradesh and Devendra Fadnavis is squeezing the life out of them in Maharashtra. Take these two states away from Congress and they cannot repeat 2004.

Maharashtra has certain features that make it unique. It is one of the states that is deeply feudal in its politics despite being highly industrialized. This feudal power structure, mostly kept in place through cooperatives loyal to local politicians, results in very powerful local governments. In Maharashtra, the local elections really matter. Every little nagarpalika is hotly contested, because there is a lot of power at stake. For instance, Mumbai’s BMC is practically a state on its own. The only other state I know of where local elections matter so much is West Bengal.

So, the real task before Devendra Fadnavis was to bring BJP to the grassroots in Maharashtra. At the grassroots, the BJP had always been party No. 4, even behind Shiv Sena. The only time before 2014 when saffron forces formed the government in Maharashtra was when the Sena+BJP combine swept 33 out of 34 seats in Mumbai in 1995. Both saffron parties were effectively missing in most of the state. With Sena+BJP unable to repeat their performance in Mumbai (thanks in major part to MNS), they didn’t have a chance in 1999 nor in 2004 nor in 2009.

Outside Mumbai, the secular forces have deep roots everywhere in Maharashtra. Quick…name a city in Maharashtra other than Mumbai. Did you say Pune? It might come as a surprise to people that Pune is a stronghold of the NCP. Yes, an aspirational urban area can be an NCP stronghold. Did you say Nagpur? Surely Nagpur, the fountainhead of the RSS, is a stronghold of BJP? Wrong again! Nagpur is a stronghold of the Congress party. It is only in 2014 that secular bastions in Pune and Nagpur were demolished by the Modi wave.

What about Kolhapur? LOL! Congress/NCP has never lost it since 1952 and BJP lost there even in 2014!! Would you believe that Navi Mumbai…yes…right on the edges of the Maximum City is also an NCP stronghold? I hope that by now, readers who are not from Maharashtra, would have an idea of the strength of Congress-NCP in the state.

This is the mountain that Devendra Fadnavis was expected to climb. And he would have to do it with the Shiv Sena snapping at his heels. Fadnavis understood that the real target of BJP is the NCP. The NCP…or as Modi aptly described it… the “Naturally Corrupt Party” is totally dependent on the power of these cooperatives and local satraps. With the NCP out of power both in the state and the center, it makes sense for the local satraps to gravitate towards the ruling party. Fadnavis would have to dissolve the NCP at the grassroots. This is what he pulled off in remarkable fashion in the first phase of the municipal polls where as many as 167 councils were at stake. With a 72% voter turnout, these polls richly deserved the title of “mini-Assembly election”. Here are the results.

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That’s simply staggering. From No. 4 to No. 1 in one giant leap. The picture is even more stark if you look at the Mayoral elections for the 167 councils that were held directly. The BJP was by far the No.1 with 55 Mayors whereas Congress was a poor 2nd with around 25 seats.

The next two phases were much smaller, involving just 14 councils and 19 councils respectively, compared to the mammoth 167 in the first phase.

Here’s the performance in the 2nd phase:

Mayors : BJP 5 Cong 3 NCP 2 Sena 1 Others 3 (Total = 14)

And wardwise, here is the performance:

NCP 94 BJP 89 Cong 44 Sena 25

What? How come BJP is behind NCP? Well, look at the position from 2011:

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Yes, BJP was a poor 4th here with just 17 wards compared to 86 of the NCP and 72 of the Congress. Quite simply, the BJP was nowhere. Now it has the maximum number of mayors and just a shade behind NCP in number of wards. The BJP has arrived in rural Maharashtra…finally.

Here is the third phase, results for which came out yesterday. A total of 19 councils went to polls. Among them were 11 councils in Nanded, the bastion of Ashok Chavan. Nanded did not fall even in 2014. But here are the results now:

Cong 8 BJP 7 NCP 1 Sena 0 Others 3 (Total 19)

And wardwise:

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Can you believe that the BJP had won just 25 wards in this region across 19 councils in 2011? Again, BJP was nowhere. Now it has 119 wards, just behind the 126 of the Congress.

Add up the 3 phases and you have the results for the whole of Maharashtra:

BJP 1097. Congress 917 NCP 786. Shiv Sena 596.

As for Mayors, the BJP has won 67 while the Congress has got a mere 35. This is the story of Devendra Fadnavis’ remarkable battle to make BJP the No. 1 party in the state.

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Side note: As expected, Shiv Sena’s performance has been pathetic. I knew that people would punish the Sena for enjoying power and continuing to criticize the government. Such hypocrisy is detested by the common man. BJP’s big new challenge is to make the Shiv Sena eat humble pie in the BMC polls.

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24 thoughts on “How Devendra Fadnavis is cementing the BJP in Maharashtra

  1. I can see this is ground level in Pune.. I am in Pune since 2010 and you will not be believe that there was no sigh of BJP anywhere even a small poster of BJP in Pune at that time only Peak of NCP and Congress was there but today it changed completely in Pune.. You can see full of BJP now poster campaigning of BJP its totally reverse of NCP to BJP.. It amazing to see young Maratha boys who considered loyal to NCP Sharad Pawar now campaigning for BJP PM Modi. All streets covered with BJP posters and PM Modi Posters even in small Ward elections.. Amazing to see this changes in Pune…

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    1. Yes. Maharashtra is changing. What is surprising is how long it took for BJP to make inroads into urban areas of Maharashtra. The state is a “natural Hindutva state” and highly urbanized. But BJP never lived up to its potential there. Finally seeing a turnaround and all due to Fadnavis. I don’t trust Pankaja Munde. She is only interested in fomenting caste troubles based on OBC identity politics vs a Brahmin CM.

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  2. CW…..You are too good at political analysis and conclusions!!…kudos!

    ‘Modi needed capable generals’…..Exactly! and also good lieutenants to carry out the agenda…at Delhi ,except some, many are not doing anything.

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  3. No wonder people consider Devendra Fadnavis next in line for the PM-ship after Narendra Modi. I wrongly thought Bala Saheb controlled entire Maharashtra, but judging from past results he had very small impact and now that he is gone, Shiv Sena should merge with BJP of just vanish.

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    1. Indeed. It is time for Shiv Sena to leave dreamland. They were never a worthwhile opposition to Congress. At the grassroots, the Shiv Sena workers should just join BJP while the egoistic shehzadas leading the party at the top can walk into the sunset.

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  4. i look at CM Fadnavis and Shivraj Chauhan as next PM candidates for BJP. I think we as voters should push for our PM candidates to first be CM of a state show what they can do at a state level before handing them keys for the whole nation. This would automatically eliminate junk candidates like Pappu for good.

    CW thanks again for putting all these stats together. I have been following the Maha results but it was a bit confusing given there are a lot of posts to contest for. Your article sheds much needed light for my understanding. 🙂

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    1. I second your thoughts Sourav. Since the jalyuktashivar (water conservation) program, I have been keenly following Fadnavis’ path and suffice to say that he is really doing extremely well, save for minor blemishes. Shivraj Singh Chouhan doesn’t get as much credit or airtime as he should but he has transformed grassroots level governance in MP. What I have always admired about BJP (something I believe CW has alluded to earlier as well) is their succession planning – unlike the dynasty, the BJP has never been subservient to one dominant leader and as powerful and all-conquering as NaMo seems now, they will make sure someone is ready to take over when he calls it a day (which hopefully will be after 2029) 🙂

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      1. JalYuktShivir is a roaring success. People came out and contributed from their own pocket voluntarily. This would never happen unless people really trusted the government’s intentions and effectiveness.

        With Devendra Fadnavis, BJP might just have found another awesome new regional satrap. This is the real power of the BJP. Keeping the supply line intact for new leaders to emerge.

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      2. I was just going through the work being done by CM Sarbananda Sonowal in Assam and I must admit he is very well capable of giving Fadnavis a run for the money. Compared to Maha, Assam being a border state has a wide range of problem most significant being Bangladeshis destabilising the local demographics which was being done in collusion with Congress to build a M vote bank. He is working to get the fence done by 2017, citizens registry to identify and deport illegal immigrants and most remarkably his cabinet ministers are standing up to Madrasas closing up on Fridays.

        I would request CW to write a piece on Assam concentrating on the work being done there. In the cacophony of politic’s we always forget our far North Eastern states. Time has come to keep an eye on the developments taking place there. With Rail Ministry opening up multiple trains to Assam we are bound to see a boost in tourism and more influx of people from there into mainstream states.

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    2. Maharashtra is a fascinating state. It’s massive. It’s industrialized. It’s feudal. It’s urbaized.And it generally votes for Congress. Bundle of contradictions.

      If Fadnavis can win 3 elections in Maharashtra, he will be next PM no doubt.

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  5. Very good post.To add to that,BJP won in Chandigarh today.I think SAD-BJP actually have a fighting chance now after AAP’s fall.Let’s see what happens.

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    1. I think that while an NDA victory is unlikely in Punjab with Congress gaining majority,but at least hopefully BJP will get and win more share of seats,and AAP would disappear

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      1. Punjab is mostly a goner for NDA now. Rather BJP should focus on increasing its base in Punjab. The days of the Akalis might be coming to an end and father-son are deeply corrupt anyway.

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        1. Yeah,that’s what i meant.I think they had more support in urban areas,like Chandigarh so they could try to increase their base there.i hope Amit shah asks for at least 35-40 seats there.last time they contested just 23 out of 117.they should definitely increase that a lot.

          They could also try taking advantage of the increasing Dalit voteshare of BJP

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    2. I doubt NDA has any chance in Punjab. As it is, I would consider Chandigarh “a part of Haryana” for electoral purposes. This win shows that BJP is well placed in Haryana rather than reflecting anything on Punjab. Right now the two sister states are having a bitter quarrel as well. BJP has sided clearly with Haryana because it has much bigger stakes there.

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    3. I think exactly opposite might be the case, perhaps AAP was dividing the anti-incumbency votes. So actually AAP’s fall may add voters in favor of congress.

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  6. Speaking of the NCP,did you know that they hold the only LS seat from the Lakshadweep Islands ?I know Lakshadweep has a Muslim majority but still,Cong should have coasted to victory every time an LS election was held in Lakshadweep but that didn’t happen.An even more surprising fact coming up.Did you know that JD(U) won this seat in 2004?Incredible,right?

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  7. Marathas have very recent memory of the Maratha empire and Shivaji and his cohorts giving multiple blows to Muslims.
    This could be the reason that they are not enamored by the ‘meek’ and ‘weak’ projection of RSS.
    RSS is still kinda a Brahmin Baniya types. A Kalyan Singh, a Yogi Adityanath, or Vasundara Raje are not bound by this image and culture hence their appeal goes beyond.
    Mr Mann ki Baat also had a similar image.
    Someone should tell that Fadnavis fellow to take care of his waist.
    And RSS to not take its cowardice and convert it into non violence non sense like that Gaandi fellow.
    Lol. RSS is the only Gaandian organization left in the country.

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  8. Excellent article with pragmatic analysis of politics in Maharashtra, no doubt that Devendra Fadnavis cemented BJP for a long run.

    However I want to mention the ‘Caste’ angle of Maharashtra politics, which somehow is missing in this article, for decades congress & NCP maintained a stronghold in almost all constituencies of Maharashtra because they consistently produced powerful Maratha Leaders at Local Level. Historically, in Mah assembly almost 70-80% of MLAs were Maratha & they always demanded a CM who belongs to same caste. This pattern was disrupted partly because of strong modi wave in 2014 & also because of ani incumbency/corruption. However, we can see the return of this caste based politics during massive rallies/agitations in Maharashtra in the name of ‘Maratha Reservation’, indirectly organised by NCP/ Congress stooges.

    As usual, Congress/ NCP are playing all their cards of caste based politics & surprisingly, it seems to be working. To me, its really worrisome to see the kind of response received for agitations of ‘Maratha Reservation’.

    I still feel its a long way to go for Fadanvis & BJP for 2019 assembly elections, since caste based politics can return any time ib Maharashtra & a ‘Brahmin’ CM will definitely face an uphill task to remain in power in 2019.

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