/ Shriranjan Awate /
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The fourth and final phase of polling in Maharashtra, the state having second most Lok Sabha seats (48) in the country, got completed on 29th April with 60.68% turnout, little higher than 2014’s 60.32%. Though the voter turn-out remains more or less same, the voting pattern has changed significantly. Maharashtra, like most of the parts of Hindi Heartland, had witnessed Modi-wave during 2014 LS elections. This time, the wave has almost disappeared and the centre’s dominant narrative gone down dramatically despite Modi’s relatively high popularity. As a result, local equations became crucial in Maharashtra Lok Sabha elections. The changing mood was quite visible throughout the campaign & tactics played by the political parties in the fray.
● The campaign in Maharashtra:
Though there are four major parties in the politics of Maharashtra, the contest was primarily two-cornered with Cong-NCP alliance (UPA) on one side and Shiv Sena-BJP alliance(NDA) on the other. The third corner was Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi(VBA) having an alliance of Bharatiya Republican Party (RPI) headed by Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar & All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) headed by Asududdin Owaisi. While VBA was claiming to fight against both Congress & BJP, it seems that this alliance would compel UPA to face a tough challenge as the voter base of VBA & UPA will get divided in few constituencies.
BJP played the game on two fronts:
Firstly, the party was successful in demoralizing the alliance of opposition, by persuading their prominent influential local leaders to join BJP by hook or crook. BJP could manage to accommodate Vikhe Patil from Ahmadnagar (Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil was the leader of opposition in Maharashtra legislative assembly) and Mohite Patil from Madha in its party.
Secondly, CM Devendra Fadanvis & his team vigorously campaigned on the issue of national security citing the example of Pulwama attack & Balakot airstrike. PM Modi also campaigned on the same agenda, diverting the key issues of unemployment & agrarian crisis. Interestingly the ‘Gujrat model’ and the ‘development’ campaign agendas were missing from Modi’s speeches this year. Instead his focus remained on the card of caste and religion. The religious polarization tactic became more evident after Pragya Thakur was awarded a candidature from the Bhopal constituency, apparently an accused from the Malegaon Bomb Blast case. While addressing the rally In Latur, PM said, “I want to ask first-time voters: Can your first vote be dedicated to the courageous jawans who did the Balakot air strike? Can your first vote be in the name of the courageous martyrs who lost their lives in Pulwama?” But, unlike 2014 LS, Modi couldn’t energize the crowd enough with his rhetoric.
While NDA was faltering, UPA also was directionless. The Congress party faced internal conflicts and could not manage to resolve it to challenge BJP effectively. It seems that NCP, headed by senior leader Sharad Pawar, could manage a comeback by placing strong candidates in Western Maharashtra. On the other hand, Shiv Sena, an ally of BJP, apparently could not be able to gain the confidence of voters and might lose more seats as compared with the BJP as it criticized Modi-Shah’s BJP severely for last four and half years and made an alliance in the wake of the election.
● Raj Thackeray Factor:
While the election fever was low and somewhat tedious, the rise of charismatic leader Raj Thackery, chief of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) gave an impetus to the opposition as he did not field his candidates & forcefully campaigned against the Modi-Shah duo. His speeches were a combination of his oratory and an audio visual presentation verifying Modi-Shah’s claims. The rallies of Raj Thackery witnessed unprecedented crowds and may turn out to influence floating voters especially in Mumbai-Nasik region where he has a stronghold. Even his speeches went viral on social media & crossed the borders of Maharashtra. The clips of his speeches & the clips he showed were played with the subtitles in non-Maharashtra regions, creating a counter narrative to the ‘national security’ campaign agenda built on Pulwama attack and Balakot strikes by the NDA. Consequently, the one-sided battle became level playing field with his ability to pull crowds like a magnet.
● Region-wise Trends:
Maharashtra has five major regions, namely, Vidarbha (10), Marathwada (8), North Maharashtra (6), Mumbai-Konkan (12) & Central/Western Maharashtra (12) with total 48 Lok Sabha constituencies. After the rise of Modi in 2014, the power centre of Maharashtra was shifted to Vidarbha from Western Maharashtra as Vidarbha is the bastion of BJP. This time, poor response to Modi’s rally at Wardha indicated a red signal to the ruling party. As all seats of Vidarbha were grabbed by NDA in 2014 LS, the mandate of this region will be the litmus test of BJP on farmer distress. Similarly, farm distress & drought conditions impacted Marathwada, the most affected region of the state deeply. Even in North Maharashtra, the agrarian crisis will turn out to be the key issue on which farmers would have made their voting choice. Besides this, issues about the Forests Rights Act and the conflict between tribals & Dhangars will be decisive in this region. BJP’s decision of allocating 16% reservation to Marathas did not go well with OBCs, which may turn crucial in Central & Western Maharashtra. Chhagan Bhujbal, the face of OBC leadership from NCP, attempted to exploit the scenario at its best. The issue of unemployment remains effective in all regions. While a significant part of urban constituencies still supports BJP, the rural voter has moved away from the ruling party to a great degree.
The lack of strong leadership in Congress and their inability to coordinate well with parties in the alliance has made sure that Sharad Pawar and his NCP would be decisive players in the politics of Maharashtra. Sharad Pawar continues to be the upper hand in the political scene.
● Looking Ahead
Squarely talking in terms of numbers, the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance would steep below 30, while the Cong-NCP alliance may reach a figure in the 20s. Beyond the electoral arithmetic, the key issues of the people of the state are left behind. While BJP-Shiv Sena alliance have centred their politics in the state mainly around Hindutva and national security, Cong-NCP, with the help of MNS have been able to raise the issues of unemployment and farmers’ distress to the fore to a great extent. However with all said and done, the future of Maharashtra stands on shaky grounds with no clear indication of the mandate and of the political atmosphere that is taking shape.
The author is a Teaching Associate at Savitribai Phule Pune University, Pune. He can be contacted at email@example.com