Expert Speak India Matters
Published on Oct 16, 2019
Maharashtra assembly polls 2019: Advantage for Devendra Fadnavis Election to the 288-member Maharashtra Legislative Assembly will take place on 21 October 2019. This comes close on the heels of the BJP-Sena alliance bagging 41 of the 48 seats in the general election. The curtains have already been drawn out for a three-act high-decibel drama that is underway in India’s most progressive state. A new screenplay has been scripted. The lead actors are playing their part. In Act-I, pre-poll pacts have been sealed. The ruling BJP party will be contesting on 164 seats, leaving 124 for the Shiv Sena. On the other hand, the Congress will contest on 144 seats and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) will battle it out on 122. The Act-II is now unfolding. Manifestos are being rolled out, report cards challenged, accusations hurled and new promises made. While it seems that all pollsters are bullish on the Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP government getting a second term, let us consider some of the important factors that are expected to come into play when the voting begins on 21 October.

The “Mahajanadesh” Yatra:

The election pitch began even before the code of conduct was declared with a 24-day tour, the state-wide ‘Maha Janadesh Yatra,’ that Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis undertook in August. The tour helped him reach out to voters in 150 assembly urban and rural constituencies. During the 4,384 km Yatra, the Chief Minister addressed 87 public meetings, 57 corner gatherings, and launched his poll campaign. This helped Fadnavis steal a march over the opposition, highlighting the achievements of his government, and ensuring he was in the limelight throughout while making his pitch for a second term in office. His ‘clean’, ‘performance-oriented’ and ‘pro-development’ ‘young’ chief minister narrative has captured the voters’ imagination. He has denied tickets to three important leaders – two former ministers Prakash Mehta and Eknath Khadse, and Education Minister Vinod Tawde – citing issues of corruption and non-performance respectively.

Modi factor:

Prime Minister Modi, BJP’s star campaigner, kicked off his Maharashtra rally with two addresses in Jalgaon and Bhandara on 13 October. Cashing in on the nationalist fervour, he dared the opposition parties to reverse the move of the Central government to revoke Article 370 & 35A in Jammu and Kashmir. The Modi factor is still very formidable in Maharashtra as witnessed in the Lok Sabha elections and his popularity among the middle and lower-middle class remains high. Several central schemes such as the Jan Dhan Yojana and direct debit transfer have made a huge impact in Maharashtra. On the other hand, Congress leader and Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi, who also kicked off his rallies on Sunday, spoke on GST and its impact, and how the government is skirting issues of jobs and unemployment.

Social engineering:

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’s social engineering skills have been much lauded in the last five years. He has been instrumental in getting the Hindutva, Maratha & Ambedkarite votes under one umbrella. Despite being a Brahmin chief minister (for which he caught flak when he first occupied the CM post), he worked hard to neutralise the restive Marathas and give the community 16 percent reservation in jobs and education which they had been lobbying for since 1989. He has also addressed the caste question in several ways – the most popular being his ₹ 200 crore allotment for the Maharashtra State Other Backward Classes Finance and Development Cooperation. 

The Palghar Pattern:

A formula that was incorporated in a by-election in 2018, popularly known as the ‘Palghar Pattern’ where you ‘switch party for power’ and ‘poach the winnable candidate’ has become a common feature in Maharashtra. In Palghar, former Congress minister Rajendra Gavit won the by-election after the demise of the sitting BJP MP Chintaman Wanga as a BJP candidate. However, in a tactical shift, following the constituency going to the Shiv Sena’s kitty, the allies have decided to switch his party for power. Accordingly, Gavit is now contesting from Palghar on a Shiv Sena ticket. The Palghar Pattern is also deployed for several big and small politicians from Congress and NCP who have switched over to the BJP. The former leader of opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, who moved over to the BJP from the Congress during the general election and was given a state cabinet berth, is now contesting on a BJP ticket. NCP leader Ranjitsinh Mohite-Patil from NCP’s stronghold Madha was poached to contest on a BJP ticket. Many of these turncoats are regional satraps, and thus will move voters to their side; however, this has given rise to rebellion within party ranks which might cause some damage.

The Congress-NCP conundrum:

In the past five-years, Maharashtra has witnessed almost a non-existent opposition, with both the Congress and NCP recording lacklustre performances. The Congress, riddled with infighting, has been unable to unite to fight Fadnavis. On the other hand, the Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar-led NCP, has been jolted with many of its leaders being accused in scams of the previous government. Thus, the principal opposition parties (Congress-NCP) did not corner the government enough on important issues and lacked synergy among themselves. The latest demand, which has come from both parties for Pawar to get NCP to merge into Congress, seems inevitable with time. Another probable irritant, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s Raj Thackeray, has also been put on the defensive just weeks before the elections, with a probe into alleged money laundering against him.

Infrastructure push:

The BJP has also cashed in on the urban votes, which account for nearly half of Maharashtra’s population. Between the Lok Sabha elections of 2009 and 2019, the alliance’s vote share in urban areas has been doubled to 57 percent. At the beginning of its term in 2014, the government focused on creating infrastructure and mobility projects through state funding and central programmes like Amrut and the Smart City project. Long-pending projects for Metro rail connectivity, intercity connectivity and affordable housing were also taken up on priority. Thus, besides creating better prospects in cities like Mumbai and Thane, the BJP also wooed the electorate in the large municipal areas of Pune, Nashik and Nagpur. The Congress-NCP leaders were not seen making any sincere efforts to recover lost ground, even in major cities like Mumbai, Pune, Nashik and Nagpur.

Farmers, floods and drought:

Farmers have been the most hit by natural calamities in the state with three major droughts and a major flood enveloping the state in the past five years. While Fadnavis has come up with several measures and announced long-term solutions to address these issues, there is a silent anti-incumbency undercurrent in the Marathwada, Sangli and Kolhapur belts, which suffered the most. The government, Fadnavis announced, is working on a two-pronged strategy – to create flood-proof infrastructure so that basic services are not affected and to divert excess water to drought-affected areas. He also announced that the proposed water grid scheme and local water schemes will ensure that Marathwada no longer faces drought conditions. This sounds as a good solution, but too late. Theopposition has also alleged that the farmer loan waiver scheme announced by the government was patchy and left 51 lakh eligible farmers out of its ambit.

Shiv Sena – the younger brother

The Shiv Sena, which is BJP’s principal alliance partner in Maharashtra, quickly changed its song after the Lok Sabha results. Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray who had become popular for his acerbic attacks on Modi and Shah despite sharing power with the government, has completely turned around and is playing along with the BJP. First, seeing the popularity both Fadnavis and Modi, it has realised that it cannot win enough seats to give BJP a fight on its own. Second, it realises that sitting out of power will mean it will have to occupy opposition benches with Congress and NCP, which it is not willing to do. Also, for the first time a member of the Thackeray clan, Uddhav’s son, Aaditya, is contesting an election. Yuva Sena chief Aaditya Thackeray may get a state cabinet berth, and is being touted as a future Chief Ministerial candidate. Uddhav has also realised that many of his ministers like Eknath Shinde and Subhash Desai have hugely gained Fadnavis’s trust, and Uddhav will not like to rock the applecart at this point.

The VBA factor:

Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of B.R Ambedkar along with Asaduddin Owaisi, head of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), formed a political partnership referred to as "Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA)” during the Lok Sabha polls. It won two seats in the last assembly election in Maharashtra in 2014, and 7% of total votes cutting into the Congress-NCP share. This time, VBA, which represents almost 30% of the Vanchit population is set to contest on all seats. However, AIMIM has not extended its support to VBA. Yet, it will be a force to watch out for. While all these and many more factors will contribute towards how Maharashtra’s votes will swing, this Act-II in the run-up to 21 October remains predictable to a large extent, with Fadnavis winning the battle comfortably. However, what will be interesting will be the Act-III of the drama, that will unfold post 24 October 2019 when the results will be declared and the number game will begin. A few hiccups cannot be ruled out on how BJP handles the tantrums that the younger brother ‘Shiv Sena’ is sure to throw up in the government formation, in case it doesn’t get enough numbers. It is also said that the Congress-NCP combine might see their all-time low number in this election. Speculation is rife that Fadnavis is being considered for a bigger role in the central government in the near future, with Minister Chandrakant Patil, who is known to be close to Amit Shah, taking over. This political drama is sure to get more colourful and all daggers will be out to determine the winners and losers. But for now it is ‘Advantage Fadnavis’.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


Sayli UdasMankikar

Sayli UdasMankikar

Sayli UdasMankikar was a Senior Fellow with the ORF's political economy programme. She works on issues related to sustainable urbanisation with special focus on urban ...

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