Formation of popular government in Maharashtra has become the proverbial ‘Achilles Heel’ due to the stubborn attitude of Shiv Sena, the partner of BJP in the state despite the people giving a renewed mandate to the Saffron Combine.
The BJP-Shiv Sena contested elections as alliance sharing the seats. The BJP contested 162 (12 seats it had offered to other smaller alliance partners and fought on 150) while the Shiv Sena shared 124 seats. The SS did not share any of its seats but could win only 56. The BJP emerged the single largest party with 105 seats in its kitty out of the 150 it contested.
By way of natural justice, the BJP should have formed the government with the active and participatory support of the Shiv Sena (SS). And the people of the state were expecting that to happen as it happened in Haryana where the BJP formed the government headed by Chief Minister Manohar Lal with the support of Dushyant Chautala of Jannayak Janata Party (JJP).
However, that did not take place in Maharashtra where the BJP-SS got a full majority to form the next government. And, if anyone is to be blamed for this state of indecisiveness it is the Shiv Sena alone.
Look at the past five-year performance of the Shiv Sena. Not a day passed when there was no comment on the Fadnavis government or the BJP in Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece ‘Saamana’. The loudmouth spokesperson of the regional outfit grabbed every opportunity to settle score with the BJP. The Sena leadership just refused to understand and cope with the changing scenario. They still wanted the same old 1995 formula to be honoured in 2019.
Much water has flown into the Western sea since 1995. The Shiv Sena which enjoyed the status of being the ‘big brother’ of yesteryears is now reduced to the position of a ‘younger brother’. The BJP has consolidated its position at the Centre, in various states including Maharashtra. The stubborn attitude of the SS had forced the BJP to contest 2014 elections separately, which they did and emerged as the single largest party of 122 MLAs. Devendra Fadnavis formed the government to which reluctantly though, the SS extended support, enjoyed the fruits of power and reserved the right to criticise the BJP as per their whims.
The situation is no different now. The SS is trying to extract as much as they can from the BJP before allowing them to form the government. The raising of 50:50 sharing of power, naming the Chief Minister and similar such issues can be cited to substantiate this point. This continued until October 30 when the BJP legislature party elected Devendra Fadnavis as their unanimous leader and next Chief Minister of the state. After his election, Fadanvis said he would stake the claim to form the government and take the oath of office on November 1 with or without the support of SS.
However, the would-be Chief Minister and his party expressed hope that the SS would relent on its stand and join the swearing-in ceremony without pressing for 50:50 sharing formula and other such demands. A day earlier, Fadnavis had clarified that there was no such assurance given to SS on 50:50 sharing or offering Deputy Chief Minister’s post to SS. Soon after this statement from Fadnavis, the SS Supremo Uddhav Thackeray cancelled the meeting scheduled with BJP on power-sharing on that day in the afternoon. However, the SS seems to have climbed down and has given signals to facilitate the formation of alliance government under the leadership of Devendra Fadnavis.
The elections in Maharashtra had attracted the attention of the nation more for its size, complexity and resurgence of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) under octogenarian Sharad Pawar. Maharashtra being the economic and financial capital occupies an important position in the country. Barring the exception of SS-BJP alliance rule in 1995-99, the state was constantly under the Congress rule and the decade prior to 2014 saw the combine rule of Congress-NCP in the state.
Riding on the victory wave in 2014, the BJP emerged as a single largest party and formed the government with the support of the Shiv Sena. These two partners wedded to Hindutva ideology, had contested the elections separately then but later the SS had extended its support and participated in the government also.
The same formula was applied in 2019. The SS did not break the alliance but continued murmuring on very trivial issues. However, the results spoke for themselves. The voters of the state reposed their faith in the BJP-SS combine but not without a stern warning. The BJP-SS government had completed its first ever full five-year term in the state and Devendra Fadnavis is the only second Chief Minister to complete the full five-year term after the late Vasantrao Naik of the Congress. No other Chief Minister could complete the full five-year term despite his party having full or two-thirds majority in the House!
Though the Saffron dispensation had won the mandate, the voters have given a very clear and stern warning to them. The warning is: The government must address the issues of the citizens rather than go boasting with their achievements at the national and global level. The most pertinent question is: Will the ruling dispensation listen to this warning and mend its ways or simply ignore it and tread the beaten path? The next five years will tell.
In 2019, the BJP-SS crafted an alliance on terms better ‘known’ to the top brass of their respective parties leaving a free for all field of speculation to media and political observers and self-styled analysts. The vote share of both the parties has come down considerably resulting in reduced number of seats in the Assembly. The BJP contested 164 seats and won 105 while the Shiv Sena contested 124 seats and registered victory on 56. The BJP suffered a downfall of 17 seats from the 2014 tally and its vote share too shrunk by 5.5%. The party had surged ahead in 140 assembly segments during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections but could manage to add 105 seats to its kitty in Assembly polls.
Same is the case with Shiv Sena. The party contested 124 seats; won 56 with its vote share dipping to 16.5% (less by 3.3%). It had registered majority in 110 assembly constituencies in 2019 Lok Sabha elections but could manage to get up to just halfway mark in the Assembly elections.
The BJP had swept the traditional Congress bastion of Vidarbha in 2014 with 44 seats out of 62 but in 2019 it suffered maximum damage of 16 seats in this region out of the total loss of 25 seats. It marginally gained in Marathwada but again suffered a setback in Western Maharashtra. Mumbai voted for BJP-SS combine.
A total of 34 Ministers of Fadnavis cabinet were in the fray and 8 out of them including the Rural Development Minister Pankaja Munde, daughter of the late Gopinath Munde, had to bite the dust. She was defeated by her cousin Dhananjay Munde who contested as an NCP candidate from Parli. Another cabinet minister Ram Shinde was defeated by NCP supremo Sharad Pawar’s grandnephew Rohit Pawar who made a debut entry in the Vidhan Sabha from Karjat-Jamkhed seat. State Agriculture Minister Dr Anil Bonde was defeated from Morshi. The other ministers of Fadnavis cabinet who tasted defeat included Parinay Fuke from Sakoli where the Prime Minister had addressed a huge election campaign meeting and Bala Bhegde. Shiv Sena ministers Arjun Khotkar, Jayadatt Kshirsagar, and Vijay Shivtare were also defeated.
What are the major factors that influenced the outcome of these elections in spite of good work done by the BJP-SS government in the last five years? The leaders of both the parties exuded confidence that they would win 200 plus seats in Maharashtra and 70 plus in 90-seat Assembly of Haryana. The Congress has almost written off contesting and they just went to the hustings with a defeatist mentality. The NCP and its Supremo Sharad Pawar was the only visible leader other than Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and other ‘State Campaigners’ of the BJP who had accepted this challenge. All other parties were nowhere in the picture and the results endorsed this observation also. But the voters did not go for lopsided voting as expected.
Development notwithstanding the major drawback of this government was its lackadaisical approach in addressing the important issues of the people. Be it drought or flash floods or heavy rains or providing potable water and roads without potholes. These are very common issues, but they certainly deal with the satisfaction index of the people and unfortunately, the government’s performance on these issues was not as expected by the voters.
Unemployment, farmers’ loan waiver, providing irrigation facilities, the optimum price for agriculture produce, marketing facilities for farmers and encouragement to industries are some of the major areas that needed immediate attention where the government seems to have faltered. Major industrial projects like MIHAN are still waiting for the entrepreneurs to come and set up units and also provide jobs to local youth.
There was simmering anger against the policy of reservation. The ‘Save Merit-Save Nation’ movement launched by the upper caste strata was not addressed properly. This has resulted in increasing the percentage of NOTA voters which might have cost dearly to the BJP. To cite some examples, in Latur (Rural) assembly constituency 27,500 voters chose the NOTA option, highest in the State Assembly polls. This was the second-highest number of votes polled from where former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh’s son Dhiraj won as a Congress candidate defeating Shiv Sena’s Sachin Deshmukh who polled 13524 votes!
Another constituency of Palus-Kadegaon saw a higher turnout of NOTA votes – 20,631 i.e. 9.9% of the total electorate. In Mumbai’s Jogeshwari East constituency 12,031 voters opted for NOTA. This increasing trend of going for NOTA may prove to be dangerous for healthy democracy in future and the government must take cognizance of this phenomenon and take corrective measures.
Another remarkable feature of this election is the resurgence of NCP. The party which was on the brink of political harakiri has risen like a phoenix from the ashes. Most stalwarts of the party had defected to BJP and SS before the elections. Even party’s Satara MP Udayanraje Bhosle defected to BJP and was welcomed and hailed by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, this did not dampen the spirit of the ‘Maratha’ Satrap Sharad Pawar.
The Congress party managed to get 44 seats just two more as compared to 2014 tally. Former Chief Ministers Prithviraj Chavhan and Ashok Chavhan are among the stalwarts who won besides Balasaheb Thorat. Had the party entered into an alliance with NCP and concentrated on systematic campaigning the combine could have created a difficult situation for the BJP-SS combine.
All said and done, the results indicate only one thing. The message of this result is loud and clear: Don’t take the voters for granted. They are the better judge of the leaders. Address the problems of the people sincerely and honestly avoiding the vulgar show of pomp and pelf. Local issues certainly take a front seat in Assembly polls than national issues like amendment in Article 370 or demolishing terror launch pads inside Pakistan. The ‘star campaigners’ of the parties must take note of this.
The traditional voter of BJP-SS combine has expressed their dislike umpteen times over the attitude of the Shiv Sena leaders and their attitude to put hurdles in the working of the Chief Minister. The Shiv Sena seems to have resorted to arm-twisting tactics to pressurise the BJP and squeeze as much share of the power as they can. The present stalemate is the sum total of this arm-twisting attitude. The voters will not tolerate this as they have reposed their faith in this combine with a hope that they will improve their condition, create job opportunities and end farmers’ woes. It is time for the Shiv Sena to read the writings on the wall and mend its ways or commit political harakiri.