Though Uttar Pradesh hogs all attention in the elections season, for the obvious reasons, what cannot be missed out is the State with second largest seat-share for sending representatives in the lower house of the parliament – Maharashtra. As the name suggests, it is a mega-state, with the third largest area and second largest population in the country, what is interesting is the mega-stakes it holds for the major national parties and the kind of mega-alliances are in the fray that would decide the future of realignment that is taking place not just at the political level but also at the social level in Maharashtra. Another important fact neglected by many analysts in Delhi is that the party who kept hold over Mumbai ruled in Delhi for the last 25 years. Therefore, understanding the pulse of Maharashtra on the ground is critical.
Traditionally, Maharashtra was known for the stronghold of the Congress party and perfect model of the Congress system, a perfect combination of caste-alliances led by the Maratha strongmen on the one hand and localised network of patronage based interest serving systems on the other hand. Even during the worst of the times, Congress had kept the control intact, with the only differential factor called Sharad Pawar, who has been in and out of the party with his tight control over the Western Maharashtra bloc of Maratha satraps. Even in 1995, when the BJP-Sena alliance first time captured power, the Congress system was together on the ground and the Yuti as the ideological alliance has been popularly known for could run the government with the support of 34 Congress rebels who were elected as independents.
2014 onwards this Congress system crumbled substantially with the absence of credible leadership, corruption charges and collapse of the cooperative model led by the Congress. Since then BJP rose as the number one party in the State. Not only BJP-Sena alliance swept the Lok Sabha elections by winning 42 out of 48 seats with a whopping vote-share of 46 percent. The Modi wave was so strong that Congress lost the seats like Nadurbar in North and Sangli in Western Maharashtra which Congres had never lost since 1962. Since then, the political equations of the Western State changed completely. At the Vidhan Sabha level also, the BJP emerged as number one party by winning 122 seats on its own pushing the NCP to number four with just 41 seats. As if this was not sufficient, BJP consolidated the position by ensuring victory of 1147 representatives and 73 Municipal Council Presidents in 2016 elections of local bodies.
Certainly, Devendra Fadanvis consolidated his leadership despite all attempts to destabilise his government though either caste based mobilisations or farmers agitations. Shiv Sena though remained critical of the Union Government led by Modi, continued to be the alliance partner of the BJP, virtually occupying the both ruling and opposition spaces by the Hindutva parties. What is at stake for the Congress led alliance is not just the number of seats but also registering the existence on the ground in the State which once considered as the bastion. It is a matter of survival for the Congress led alliance. Ironically, to remain relevant, Congress is relying on the campaigning by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena leader Raj Thakre, who has not fielded any of his candidates but still campaigning against the Modi led BJP. On the other hand, BJP-Sena would like to prove again that the equations of Maharashtra have changed forever and now Maharashtra is the new Hindutva bastion.
The politics of Maharashtra is settling for a post-Congress political realignment. Mega-Alliances in the huge state are fighting not just for maximum representation in the parliament but for the Mega-stakes in the new emerging social equations. PM Modi and Hindutva hold the key to these new equations.
PM Modi with Maharastra CM Devendra Fadanvis and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray at a rally in Mumbai on
(Image: Devendra Fadanvis Facebook Page)
There are three points which are going to determine the outcome of these elections which many cannot gauge without travelling on the ground. Modi, Hindutva and clean governance are still the factors that are determining the voting behaviour in Maharashtra. Therefore, BJP-Sena alliance is still relying on the ideological issues and Modi’s leadership.
Secondly, the leaderless Congress has outsourced the campaign strategy to the NCP and trying its best to keep the elections on local issues. Congress is directionless and its leader of opposition in the State Assembly has resigned from the post just before Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Shirdi on April 26. Sharad Pawar who has abstained from contesting this time is managing the elections but mainly focusing on his family bastion of Baramati and around. Campaigning in Marathi by the Aghadi is focusing on the State government, avoiding any reference to Modi or his Union Government.
Thirdly, it is not a traditional fight between BJP-Sena Yuti on the one hand and the Congress-NCP Aghadi on the other. Along with BJP-Sena, RPI Athawale group, Rashtriya Samaj Paksha, Maharashtra Kranti Sena a party that was formed after the agitation for Maratha reservation are also part of the NDA. Sharad Pawar on the other hand has successfully cobbled the grand alliance (Maha-Aghadi) with many local parties like various fractions of the Republican Party, Swabhimani Shetakari Sanghtana of Raju Shetti, Bahujan Vikas Aghadi, Yuva Swabhiman Party etc. Though the Aghadi is claimed to have 56 members, many of them are just local organisations. In a close contest, these local groups can be of crucial help is the calculation of the Maratha strongman. This can be true in couple of seats of Western Maharashtra where NCP still has a strong presence but how far it would help in converting the seats where BJP-Sena has a decisive edge, is doubtful for even the local Congress leaders. There is another alliance led by Prakash Ambedkar in the name of Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi in alliance with the MIM of Asadduddin Owaisi. This can be spoiler for the Congress led alliance in many Constituencies.
In other words, the politics of Maharashtra is settling for a post-Congress political realignment. In the Mega-State of Maharashtra, the Mega-Alliances are fighting not just for maximum representation in the parliament but for the Mega-stakes in the new emerging social equations. Whether one wants to accept it or not the BJP as a party, Modi as a leader and Hindutva as an ideology hold the key to these new equations.