BJP-Shiv Sena Don’t Need ‘Modi Magic’ To Win Maharashtra This Time

The exit polls come as a setback for Congress &NCP which had hoped to get around 20-22 seats this time.

Updated22 May 2019, 03:35 PM IST
Opinion
5 min read

With 48 Lok Sabha seats, Maharashtra holds high stakes in the results tally for both the major parties, the ruling BJP, and the Opposition, Congress. Also, the performance of their allies – the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party respectively – lend an additional factor in the election.

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Most exit polls give the BJP-Sena alliance between 34 and 42 seats, and project 13 to 16 seats for the Congress-NCP. Despite the lack of overt ‘Modi magic’ this time, the BJP-Sena alliance seems to have held its own. The Opposition has bounced back somewhat from its lowest-of-the-low performance in 2014, but does not take home the numbers it expected, if the exit polls are to be believed.

BJP-Shiv Sena Hold Sway Despite Lack of Jobs, Farmer Suicides

It’s not remarkable that a range of pollsters have a similar direction in seat share – between 34 to 42 seats for the BJP-Sena alliance and 10-16 for the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance. It indicates a trend, though it does not tally with the assessments and projections made from the ground by reporters during the last few months. Exit polls hold sway till results are declared. Then, sometimes as in 2004, they come apart, but no one really cares.

Most exit polls – except one – do not expect the BJP-Sena to sweep Maharashtra and leave the entire Opposition badly wounded as it had five years ago. Of the 2014 tally of 42, the BJP had bagged 23 and the Sena 18. The Congress barely registered itself with two seats. Its ally, NCP, got four. Only one – India Today-Axis – has today given the BJP-Sena a maximum of 42 seats. Most indicate a moderate decline to about 34-37 seats from last time.

If these polls hold good, it does not indicate a major slide for the ruling alliance despite a slew of troubling issues on the ground – worsening agrarian crisis, rising farmers’ suicides, sluggish economy, lack of jobs, small businesses feeling the impact of demonetisation and GST rollout – and THAT is a troubling sign.

It indicates that other issues – nationalism, religious polarisation – have determined voters’ choices. Also, the BJP-Sena will take heart in its campaign for the state assembly election, five months from now.

What Amit Shah Bent Over Backwards To Appease Uddhav Thackeray

The exit poll figures may not make BJP President Amit Shah happy. At a meeting in Pune this February, he had told Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, that he wanted 45 seats from the state, including NCP president Sharad Pawar’s hometown, Baramati. “I want my party workers to win me 45 seats from Maharashtra… If we win Baramati, the number 45 can be achieved,” he had said.

However, he may be consoled that numbers are marginally higher than the party’s internal report of December 2018. It had told the central and state leadership an important point – that the BJP would bag only 15 to 18 seats on its own, but the BJP-Sena alliance would get between 30-34 seats.

An alliance with the troublesome Shiv Sena was necessary to bolster the numbers, for without it, the BJP would see an erosion.

This explains why Shah bent over backwards in February-March to appease Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and stitch up the alliance, despite Thackeray’s continued verbal attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Fadnavis during the last four and half years. Thackeray’s peeve is that the Modi-Shah duo does not acknowledge the strength and numbers which the Sena brought to the equation in 2014 and they did not compensate it adequately with ministries and appointments.

Should the results match the exit polls, the future of the BJP-Sena alliance would depend on how they absorb it all and continue into the assembly election. It would also mean that the Sena, despite grave apprehensions within the party, has not imploded.

What Congress Could’ve Done In Maharashtra To Get A More Respectable Showing

The exit polls come as a setback for the Congress and NCP which had hoped to get around 20-22 seats this time after hitting the lowest of low points five years ago. Most exit polls have given the alliance between 10 and 16 seats. From their 2014 tally of merely six seats, each party would gladly take these figures today but wish that they could have done better.

The Congress would have had a more respectable showing if its organisational strength had been assiduously rebuilt, if its leader of Opposition in the Assembly – Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil – had been more honest and belligerent throughout and not switched loyalties to the BJP on the eve of the election; if it had been smarter about an alliance with Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar who eventually teamed up with Asaduddin Owaisi to form the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi; if its campaigning had been more focussed; if it had concentrated on every assembly segment in the urban belt of Mumbai-Thane-Kalyan.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar would pat himself on the back for what some are calling a “masterstroke”, of getting Raj Thackeray, President of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena who did not have a single contestant in the fray, to campaign in his unique style against Prime Minister Modi.

Thackeray’s rallies complete with video clips and power-point presentations, called out Modi’s claims and lies, and became the rage during the campaign. Pawar wanted the belligerent Thackeray in the Congress-NCP alliance, but the Congress would have none of it.

Maharashtra Could See Emergence Of Regional Forces

Maharashtra could see the emergence and strengthening of specific regional forces like the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi in the months to come. It may well have soaked up a share of the anti-BJP vote in this election too, hurting the Congress-NCP in the bargain, but it behoves well for the state to have another formation, representing the issues and concerns of the marginalised sections – Dalits and Muslims.

The exit poll figures, indeed, have limited value and enjoy some play till results are declared.

The wide chasm between exit polls and election results was most aptly described by the ‘India Shining’ conceptualiser, Pramod Mahajan, the late BJP leader, in 2004, as poll numbers gave a similar sweep to the National Democratic Alliance government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

“Exit polls are all giving us the ‘mandate’,” Mahajan had remarked to a few journalists, “but unfortunately the President will only accept the election results put out by the Election Commission of India. We will have to wait for those.” The NDA, of course, lost that election. Fifteen years later, the excitement around exit polls is no less and follows the same breathlessly overwhelming “victory” to the NDA.

(Smruti Koppikar, Mumbai-based independent journalist and editor, has reported on politics, terror attacks, gender and development for nearly three decades for national publications. She tweets @smrutibombay. This is 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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Published: 19 May 2019, 06:32 PM IST
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