Mumbai/Nagpur: Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis underplayed his hand after the Lok Sabha results were out,crediting people’s trust in prime minister Narendra Modi’s leadership for the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance’slandslide victory in the state, winning 41 of 48 seats as against 42 in its previous outing.
The “Modi wave” of 2014 had turned into a “tsunami”, he said talking to media in Mumbai on Thursday, adding that the mandate would cause him sleepless nights, as several issues needed to be resolved. “Drought is staring at us,” the CM acknowledged, his eyes rmly set on the forthcoming assembly polls, likely to be held in October 2019.
There’s little doubt Fadnavis’s deft handling of the state’s affairs in the past four-and-a-half years has contributed equally, if not more, to the BJP’s rich Lok Sabha harvest in the state. His political graph has been on the rise ever since he took over the reins of the party in 2012 and led its victory march in the 2014
assembly polls, followed by successes in local body elections, ensuring BJP now controls a bulk of the state’s
panchayats, zilla parishads and municipal corporations.
Not only did he manage to fend off socio-political challenges posed by the Maratha Kranti Morchas, Kisan Long Marches and Dalit unrest post-Bhima Koregaon violence, the chief minister is widely credited for bringing on board the quarrelsome Shiv Sena, just in time for the Lok Sabha campaign. The two had parted ways ahead of the 2014 assembly elections and continued to distrust each other despite having joined hands to rule the state.
More than anybody else, it’s Fadnavis who poses a major challenge to the rival Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)-led alliance of 56 parties, who would be looking to make a comeback in the assembly – if at all they manage to come out of the resounding drubbing at the Lok Sabha elections.
The Cong-NCP has managed to retain its tiny share of six seats, with NCP winning ve and Congress one, while the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) of Prakash Ambedkar-Asaduddin Owaisi opened its account with former journalist and sitting MLA Imtiaz Jaleel emerging a surprise winner in Aurangabad against Senaveteran Chandrakant Khaire.
The VBA, oated less than a year ago, has emerged as an alternate ‘non-BJP, non-Congress’ force in Maharashtra politics with its candidates occupying the third position in more than 40 constituencies. The Congress-NCP should be regretting its decision not to align with Ambedkar’s grandson for his VBA is said to
have polled more than a lakh votes in 10 constituencies and 90,000 plus in ve.
Post-Lok Sabha polls, Ambedkar declared in a television appearance, “We’re nobody’s slaves,” hinting they would go it alone even in the forthcoming assembly battle.
Sharad Pawar in his media interaction after the counting trends were clear, confessed the VBA’s numbers will have to be looked into carefully before deciding strategies for the polls ahead. But the Congress is yet to come to terms with its presence, as evident from Prithviraj Chavan’s reassertion in an article for a Marathi
newspaper a day after the results. “VBA was used by the BJP (for its benet),” the former chief minister wrote, though he admitted that the Congress’s Dalit and Muslim votes were weaned off by it.
The Congress’s worst-ever performance in Maharashtra – it managed to win Chandrapur in Vidarbha with the help of Sena defector Suresh Dhanorkar, who upset the BJP’s four-time MP and Union minister of state for home Hansraj Ahir – should make it introspect.
Two of its former chief ministers, Sushilkumar Shinde and Ashok Chavan, who is also the state unit chief, were trounced along with a number of heavyweights and prominent faces, who all failed miserably.
The NCP’s showing was no better – Supriya Sule managed to keep Baramati while others won in Raigad, Satara and Shirur, but her nephew and Ajit Pawar’s son, Parth, lost in Maval.
Navnit Rana, a successful independent backed by the party in Amravati, helped raise its tally to ve. While the defeat in Maval would hurt Ajit Pawar more than anybody, Pawar Senior would be licking the wounds suffered in Ahmednagar, where Sujay, son of Congress’s leader of opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, who has since resigned the post, romped home with over 2.75 lakh votes.
Sharad Pawar had made this a prestige battle, denying the seat from his party’s quota to the rst family of sugar barons in western Maharashtra, with whom he has had a running feud for three generations. However,Sujay, joined the BJP and won. His father is expected to join him soon.
The NCP met a similar fate in Madha, Pawar Sr’s former constituency, where his trusted aide Vijaysingh Mohite Patil’s son was denied a ticket. It cost him the Mohite Patil’s loyalty and the seat fell in the lap of BJP.
Clearly, Fadnavis’s clever ploy of luring defectors from Congress and NCP while ruthlessly denying tickets to his own MPs – the BJP dropped seven, a third of its sitting MPs – has weakened the opposition ranks and added to his party’s bench strength.
The Congress and NCP minus the backing of feudal barons and their cash-rich cooperative and private institutions, carefully nurtured under their political patronage for decades, will be hobbling around without these crutches at the assembly polls.
The shock defeat of Raju Shetti of Swabhimani Paksha, a farmers’ leader who built a political career by opposing the Congress-NCP barons in the sugar bowl of western Maharashtra, was an indicator of the BJPSena’s growing clout. Shetti, a sitting MP from Hatkanangale, who was part of the saffron alliance in 2014 but broke away to ally with secular forces, was trounced by Sena’s Dhairyashil Mane.
Interestingly, Mane’s family was staunch Pawar followers until they were denied tickets. Like Dhairyashil, many of BJP-Sena’s winners in western Maharashtra as elsewhere are local Maratha satraps interested in maintaining their hold over their political jagirs. “Issues like drought, water scarcity, minimum support price for agriculture produce, pending sugarcane dues, rural distress and farmers’ suicides, were drowned in the cacophony of Hindutva and national security,” Shetti said, surprised by the rural voters switch to emotive issues.
It may be true that the plethora of local issues highlighted in the media and picked up by the opposition during the campaign failed to register with the state’s voters in a parliamentary election.
In western Maharashtra, known as Pawar’s stronghold and the sugar bowl of the state, the BJP-Sena won seven of the 10 seats, wresting one each from NCP and Swabhimani Paksha. In 2014, they had managed ve seats. The NCP was reduced to three from its earlier tally of four.
In neighbouring Konkan, the Sena maintained its position in four of the ve seats it contested, though its candidate and Union minister Anant Geete lost to NCP’s Sunil Tatkare in Raigad. The BJP too retained Bhivandi, the only seat it contested.
In north Maharashtra, where the Kisan Long March originated and grabbed national attention last year, the ruling parties swept all six seats. Jiva Pandu Gavit, a seven-time CPM MLA representing the Adivasis of the region, polled just over a lakh votes, trailing behind his BJP and NCP rivals in Dindori.
Marathwada, which had proved a face-saver for Congress in 2014, electing its two MPs, Ashok Chavan from Nanded and Rajeev Satav from Hingoli, put its lot behind the AIMIM-VBA in Aurangabad this time. In the remaining constituencies, it was BJP-Sena all the way.
In Vidarbha too, except the surprise result in Chandrapur, the BJP-Sena managed to hold the fort. The top winner here was Union minister and senior BJP leader Nitin Gadkari, who defeated his former party colleague-turned-Congressman, Nana Patole, by over two lakh votes.
The sweep across the state should give the saffron partners a major boost, especially the BJP and CM Fadnavis, who will now have greater command over both the government and the alliance affairs. While the BJP may still need the Sena to conquer Maharashtra, it would continue to play the big brother, given their bigger numbers in both the Lok Sabha and the current assembly.
In the changed political scenario, the likes of Uddhav Thackeray or Ramdas Athavale would be more than satised to keep their place in the ruling alliance for their own reasons; Uddhav to stave off any likely challenge from his cousin, Raj Thackeray, and Athavale to save himself from Ambedkar’s onward march.
The BJP under Fadnavis have clearly emerged the sole political power centre in Maharashtra. Allying with it will have its benets. Challenging it will be fraught with risks. The Congress-NCP have no choice. They will have to face the Fadnavis-led BJP again in October.