In Maharashtra, What BJP Didn’t Prep For Was ‘Sharad Pawar Factor’
In Maharashtra this time, Sharad Pawar was indeed the ‘last man standing’, but not in the way BJP had hoped for.
The 2019 elections to the Maharashtra assembly were supposed to be done and dusted long before polling day. The results, however, have thrown up many surprises.
Less than six months after the BJP's sweep of the Lok Sabha polls, its mandate seems to have slipped substantially. From the party's hope that it will cross the half-way mark on its own, and chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’ boast that the saffron alliance would breach the 200 mark in a house of 288, the results have come as a huge disappointment for the party.
The dhols (drums) in the party office remained silent, and no firecrackers were burst.
At the time of writing, the BJP was struggling to maintain three-digit figures, dipping below the 100-seat mark on its own with stalwarts like state party president Chandrakant Patil and chief ministerial aspirant Pankaja Munde trailing the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and Nationalist Congress party candidates from Kothrud in Pune and Parli in Beed districts respectively.
The Shiv Sena, which the BJP had hoped to confine to about 40-50 seats and thus earn a reprieve from its constant bickering, however, seemed to have fared far better improving marginally on its 2014 position, when it had contested the elections on its own.
Biggest Surprise in Maharashtra Polls? Sharad Pawar Holding it Together
The biggest surprise of the elections however, was the Nationalist Congress Party and the leaderless Congress, which was completely dependent upon just one man in this election – Sharad Pawar. At the start of the election process barely a month ago, while the Congress was clueless and in complete disarray, the NCP seemed to have been virtually demolished by a series of defections of its stalwarts to the BJP. Fadnavis and union home minister Amit Shah even mocked Pawar through the campaign saying that, at the end of the day, the Maratha strongman would be the only man left standing in his party.
Pawar proved them right, but not in the manner they would have envisaged or wished for.
He was indeed the last man standing against the saffron allies and fought back hard, keeping a punishing schedule even at his age and with his long standing illness, criss-crossing the state, holding four to five campaign meetings a day, wading through the mud and slush of unexpected rains, and addressing meetings under both the blazing sun and heavy downpour. He turned the polls, surging ahead of the Congress, but the latter did not do too badly either, by and large maintaining its 2014 position —when it was expected to drop half its seats and virtually self-destruct.
The reality, thus, has been quite contrary to general expectations.
All that Went Wrong for BJP in Maharashtra
While every political party, including the small parties like Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (led by Prakash Ambedkar) (gaining two seats), has something to smile about, the BJP —the single largest party and clear winner in alliance with the Shiv Sena — is the only one not celebrating.
For, far from winning the 220 seats it had expected, it has to now acknowledge that its constant harping on nationalism, and ‘corruption’ in the Congress (which has been out of power for the past five years, both in the state and at the Centre) has now begun to bring them diminishing returns.
None of the BJP leaders focussed on any state-specific issue, including the shut-down of PMC Bank, where many of their voters had their life savings. They were mostly harping on Article 370, with PM Modi even reprimanding those who did not support its abrogation to “doob maro” (die drowning).
As Sharad Pawar said, obviously the people did not appreciate the use of such language.
Nor did they care for the kind of defections the BJP had engineered from other political parties — Udayan Raje Bhosale, the 14th descendant of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, a three-time NCP MP from Satara, suddenly upped and left the party without stating any reasonable grounds for his action. His resounding defeat on a BJP ticket by NCP's Shriniwas Patil — a former bureaucrat and former governor of Sikkim — who was brought out of retirement to take on Bhosale, came as a deep personal satisfaction to Pawar, and a lesson to the BJP that defecting leaders are not always winners. And that despite their attempt to woo Marathas, even a royal descendant was of little help in this regard, in addition to upsetting their own party workers at the grassroots.
BJP Will Now Have to Deal With a Resurgent Shiv-Sena
For that is ultimately what went against the BJP — they imported too many leaders, including Maratha stalwarts and others, from the Shiv Sena and caused rebellion in their own ranks, resulting in the failure of their own party workers to turn the results in their favour.
The BJP had set out to clearly emerge as the Big Brother in the state this election, but now will have to contend with a resurgent Shiv Sena which is already demanding a 50 percent share in power — the office of the chief minister for half the term and a few important departments to go with it.
The Shiv Sena could thus prove to be a painful thorn in its flesh over the next five years. It has lost on the swings (with voters) what it had hoped to gain on the roundabouts (with defectors), and it has failed to demolish the Opposition. Not a result it was hoping for at all.
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(Sujata Anandan is a journalist, and author of `Hindu Hriday Samrat: How the Shiv Sena changed Mumbai forever', 'Maharashtra Maximus: The state, its people & politics' and tweets @sujataanandan. This is a an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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