The Bharatiya Janata Party’s Central leadership is mulling a proposal from its Maharashtra unit to advance the Assembly elections in the State from October 2024 to coincide with the Lok Sabha poll due in April-May next year. The party is thinking of this with an eye on the alliance dynamics of the Opposition parties that form the Maha Vikas Aghadi and its own pact with the Shiv Sena.
While the State’s Deputy Chief Minister and Finance Minister Devendra Fadnavis has presented a please-all Budget for 2023-24, the party’s State think tank believes the State’s governance record under the recently formed alliance with Eknath Shinde’s Shiv Sena may take a while to translate into a certain feel-good factor.
Timing the Assembly polls with the general election where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal and national issues will also weigh on voters’ minds, could influence voters for both the battles when they enter polling booths, a member of the Council of Ministers familiar with the State’s electoral strategy told The Hindu.
“The party’s top brass in the State has made the suggestion and the Central leadership is now considering the option. It will take a call at the appropriate time,” the Minister said. “In any case, the State elections are scheduled just five-six months after the Lok Sabha polls, so it should not be too much of an issue,” he added.
The BJP is also keen to use the simultaneous State and Centre polls to amplify the fissures in what it believes is a fragile and opportunistic Opposition alliance between the Congress, Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). “The Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) troika may hang together and survive till the elections are announced, but we don’t see them lasting beyond it. They may possibly implode even during the campaign as the parties will throw their weight beyond their own candidates,” he said, adding that it is difficult to expect Sharad Pawar and NCP to play second fiddle to the two other parties for too long.
“There are several seats and areas, like the Lok Sabha seat of South Central Mumbai where the Shiv Sena (UBT) and the Congress will both be claimants, or Shirdi, where all the MVA constituents will be claimants, or even Marathwada where the NCP and Shiv Sena (UBT) will compete for seats and influence. Add the complication of seat sharing for Assembly segments over Lok Sabha, and there could be a situation where there would be two rebel candidates for every official candidate,” a Maharashtra BJP leader analysed.
Behind the thinking is also the BJP’s own uncertain equation with the Shiv Sena faction of Chief Minister Eknath Shinde. The BJP feels that while the alliance could form a government in the State, a narrative for a victory was still elusive and a struggle to be the dominant partner is on, as evidenced by State unit BJP chief Chandrakant Bawankule’s statement that the BJP would contest 240 seats in the Assembly polls next year and give the remaining 48 seats to Shiv Sena, with no mention of the independents. The statement has ignited a row, and even though State Minister Chandrakant Patil tried to do damage control, the Shiv Sena led by Eknath Shinde has become wary of being given the short shrift. In such a scenario, a double-ticket election to State Assembly and the Lok Sabha, with an overarching appeal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it is hoped, will help paper things over.