Central Election Commissioner Sunil Arora announced the State Assembly elections of both Maharashtra and Haryana to be held simultaneously. The official announcement was made on September 21 in New Delhi. Accordingly, voting will take place on October 21 in a single phase while the result will be declared on October 24 in both states. Maharashtra and Haryana will vote for 288 and 90 assembly seats, respectively.
These elections will take place against the backdrop of historical decisions by BJP Government such as the amendment of article 370 and the abrogation of Article 35A, the passing of Triple Talaq Bill into law after the landslide mandate of the people for the BJP. Especially in the case of Maharashtra, all the eyes are on issues like, leadership of CM Devendra Fadnavis, challenges for Congress and NCP ahead of elections, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA).
Game Changer Fadnavis
Though BJP has been in existence in Maharashtra for more than six or seven decades, all the other political parties began taking them seriously just four decades ago. At that time, BJP did not exist in the state except in parts of two-three districts or a few constituencies, say many. Later, in the 1980s, the situation began to change and in the 1990s, BJP came to power in the State for the first time in alliance with the Sena. Rigorous efforts by the likes of Pramod Mahajan, Vasantrao Bhagwat, Gopinath Munde were behind this huge success of the party. Even after this, BJP used to be considered a younger cousin in the BJP-Sena alliance. This secondary position in the alliance meant less number of seats for the BJP. In addition to that, Congress and NCP had a firm grip over the politics of Maharashtra which made it even worse for them. All along, BJP was known as the ‘number four party’ from the year 1999 to 2014. But after 2014, Devendra Fadanvis with his successful political leadership made the lotus bloom across the State. BJP came to power at the Centre under the leadership of Narendra Modi in 2014, thanks to Modi wave that swept the nation. The historic 2014 election not only gave the BJP a majority but also broke many stereotypes formed over the years. Many new political definitions came into existence. And most importantly BJP not only became the ‘number one’ party in the State but it also stabilised itself as the largest national party in the country.
During this transformation, CM Devendra Fadnavis was seen as a leader in the state of Maharashtra. Fadnavis, a youngest Mayor from Nagpur was trying to make a stronghold in the politics at that point in time. Then Mayor in council was introduced in Maharashtra. He became Mayor of that council, too. He made a great impression through his work. Nagpur has had many mayors but Atal Bahadur Singh and Devendra Fadanavis are the two who will always be remembered. Devendra Fadnavis contested and won from the West Nagpur constituency. The interesting thing about this constituency was that BJP has never been able to succeed there since the time of Jan Sangh. Many stalwarts like Sumatitai Sukalikar and Nitin Gadkari had contested from the same constituency. Later, OBC leader Vinod Gudade led BJP to victory from this constituency for the first time ever. Then in 2003 when Gudade Patil was given the Lok Sabha ticket and Fadnavis got the ticket for the vacant assembly seat of Nagpur West. At that time this constituency was Kunabi dominated. Hence, BJP was doubtful if Brahmin candidate like Fadanavis will be able to succeed or not! But Fadanavis has his own style of work, solving problems of the people by staying within them. On the basis of his good work, Devendra Fadnavis won that seat but Gudade Patil lost his Lok Sabha constituency. After this victory the political graph of Fadnavis started rising up and up.
Then Fadnavis did a lot of developmental work for OBC and other classes too. As a result, he was never seen as having caste prejudice as he became popular among the classes. Before 2014 elections, when Rajnath Singh was BJP chief he confirmed the name of Devendra Fadnavis as a BJP Maharashtra region chief. This too was a challenge for a comparatively junior leader like Fadnavis. BJP had been unsuccessful in the State for 15 long years. Organisation had become sombre. BJP was number four party. In this scenario, upcoming Lok Sabha elections and then assembly elections were actually a huge challenge. Having the knack of convincing even his cadre Fadnavis managed to inject new energy into BJP workers. On the basis of this, Maharashtra BJP emerged as the biggest party with 42 Lok Sabha seats in 2014. Though leaders like Nitin Gadkari, Gopinath Munde have their own share in this victory, the work of Fadanavis as state chief of the party cannot be ignored. In fact, this was his victory. During this time, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah himself gauged the sheen of this diamond and speculated that Fadnavis could be the next Chief Ministerial candidate. And it happened so. Making a Brahmin chief minister was a brave decision as the state politics has a Brahmin share of mere 2 to 3 per cent overall. This was the second time it happened after Balasaheb Thackeray decided to give the chair to Manohar Joshi back in 1995.
While becoming Chief Minister, Devendra Fadnavis was given a clear guideline by the party. Therefore, he never did go weak even after many rumours by opponents against him. Instead he worked hard with more confidence. His efforts, especially in the case of Western Maharashtra, needs to be commended. Till 2014 BJP had no existence in West Maharashtra. Pawar had complete hold over this region and BJP were unable to make any dent into it. So Fadanavis used the strategy of Pawar himself and began recruiting his men into BJP to change the political scenario of the region. He used this strategy especially in Sangli district which was known to be the fortress of Congress. This district has given many leaders to the Congress party. It was the place where nobody took even the name of BJP. He created a huge presence of the party in Sangli. Later, this Sangli model was used across western Maharashtra. On the basis of that only Fadnavis successfully managed to get many leaders into BJP.
Not only that, Fadnavis worked to build the party in Vidarbha and Marathwada too. He maintained the balance between newcomers and the senior leaders of the party. He made sure that nobody is disgruntled in the party. And most importantly, he ensured that he is not levelled with any corruption charges just like Narendra Modi did. And second important thing was that he became ‘accommodative’ to the government officials who had worked under different governments over the period of last fifteen years. He had told them of his method of working and had his job done, which was another skilful move by him. This was not an easy task.
Fadnavis Government had a tough time during the Maratha agitation, Bheema-Koregaon conflict and Farmers’ agitation. This was the period of generating anti-government sentiment in the history of Maharashtra until now. Many a time there were attempts to malign his image in front of the public. But he never lost his temper and tactfully handled the whole situation. He very gracefully handled these agitations and gave correct judgement in all of them. This proved his ability to work across various sections of society. Also, it is very clear after the 2019 elections that whole Maratha community is standing firm behind Devendra Fadnavis. It is proved that many Maratha leaders from western Maharashtra have joined BJP recently.
One more example of Devendra Fadnavis skill is that he ran a minority government. He is only second CM to run minority government for the full term of five years. Sena, which was a part of alliance many a times, took the position of an opponent but he handled all of them really well. Not just this he ran a stable minority government taking Sena by his side. Besides that Fadnavis seems to have been successful in convincing the Sena that the BJP is now the largest party in the state. This is a proven fact as we see the ongoing discussions about seat share in the alliance. There is still a part of Sena that believes that if they do not get a fair share of the seats they should contest independently. But even in this situation, it can clearly be seen that Fadnavis has successfully managed to convince Sena leadership that the Sena-BJP alliance should contest together.
Though BJP had become a major party in the State after 2014 election, there were a lot of regions, constituencies where BJP had not been able to get the electoral success. They had no existence in the politics of these areas. In some places BJP could not find the strong face while some places were held by other parties and prominent leaders that others did not get any chance ever. Somewhere something is lacking, Devendra gauged it and began expansion of the party across the state. He embarked on the mission of getting prominent leaders of other parties into BJP. All these events show his vision and political skills.
Rising Graph of Development
Cadre building, organisational foundation, negotiation skills with alliance partner as well as respect to seniors in the party have made Devendra Fadanavis a popular politician. It is evident from the rising graph of his career from the last five years. His government focused mainly on delivering fundamental services. He successfully introduced, and implemented Nagpur-Mumbai Samruddhi Communication Highway, Metro projects in Pune, Nagpur and Mumbai, the biggest loan waiver to farmers in the history and also DBT schemes of Rs 24,000 crore for farmers, Jalyukt Shivar and many other such people-oriented schemes. Apart from this, he completed Jan Shivar yatra even before the elections and took a lead in campaign.
Challenges for Congress & NCP
Ahead of Maharashtra and Haryana Assembly elections everybody is curious to know what moves Congress and NCP will take after the humiliating defeat in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. If we looked at the preparations in Congress party, it seems that the party leadership in the State is still in dilemma. Because, though Ashok Chavan is a pragmatic leader he could not be the mass leader. It was thought that he might benefit the party financially and was made a regional president. However, he could not manage to go on the ground and unite the party cadres. Additionally, his defeat in Lok Sabha elections had given a shock not only to him but to the party too. On the other hand, groupism in Mumbai leaders like Sanjay Nirupam, Murali Deora, Krupashankar Singh has been a new headache for the party. There are no leaders in the state Congress right now, who can get all these senior leaders together. There are no such leaders even in Delhi Congress who can take up this task. As a result, everybody is sitting idle. Party gave Balasaheb Thorat a chance by making him state president, but he did not seem to be taking much efforts towards the party revival. On the other hand, BJP’s 2500 kilometre Janadesh Yatra is creating great impact but Congress seems to have no strategy at all. This shows that the Congress are already resigned to their fate even before the election began.
On the other hand, NCPs fortress in western Maharashtra is already in a dilapidated condition. The whole party is in distress. Apart from that the internal conflicts between Sharad Pawar, Supriya Sule and Ajit Pawar has a huge negative effect on the party. Also, the defeat of Rohit Pawar in Lok Sabha elections was a message that even the Pawars can lose elections. This has only aggravated the gloomy mood among his cadres. They are still recovering from the shock. As a result, Sharad Pawar himself can be seen on the road campaigning for the party. Recently he held a roadshow in Satara where he looked lonely. He was seen asking for the votes in the name of sympathy. Also, his name came up in the co-operative bank fraud and an ED investigation has been ordered. And if he could be seen capitalising on this event and asking for votes as a sympathy, that won’t be a surprise for many.
Since Congress and NCP have no choice but to fight together. They had already declared their alliance. But in the current scenario they have not been able to gather themselves only, so what would they do together is another huge question mark. Secondly, Prakash Ambedkar of Vanchit Aghadi has begun making his stronghold on Dalit and Muslim votes. This is turning out to be the new headache for both the parties. BJP has OBC votes, Maratha votes are now divided and if Dalit and Muslim votes go in hands of Vanchit Congress-NCP will be left with no vote bank of their own. If we consider Maharashtra Navnirman Sena of Raj Thackeray, there is still a question mark if they will be in the battlefield or not. Raj campaigned for NCP indirectly as well directly before and during Lok Sabha elections respectively. But this political move of Pawar failed miserably. Pawar could not get any benefit out of that and thus the influence of Raj remains a far fetching picture in this election.
Congress-NCP opposed the decision on Article 370 which was the public sentiment. This might have an adverse effect on the parties in the form of outrage of people.
Congress had a major vote bank of north Indians as they had Krupashankar Singh with them. Now that he has left the party, how much of north Indian votes Congress will be able to retain is a question. Also, Ganesh Naik has left NCP along wth 52 corporators which has resulted in big blow to the NCP in Navi Mumbai. In Konkan, after Narayan Rane left no other strong face has emerged until now, which could lead the way. As leaders like Harshwardhan Patil, Udayanraje Bhosale, ShivendraRaje Bhosale has chosen to go with BJP, the chances of Congress alliance have rode in the region. Jagjit Singh Rana from Osmanabad also left the party making NCP weak in Marathwada. Sena-BJP has got quite a stronghold in a place like Parbhani for the first time. If we look at north Maharashtra, Vidharbha has always been the BJP stronghold. Congress seems to take no revival efforts there also. Thus, overall the picture is that the state elections will be completely unilateral and one-sided for the first time in the history.