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Maharashtra: The Last Fortress Falls

The 2014 Lok Sabha verdict in Maharashtra would loom large over the upcoming Assembly Elections later this year. The ruling alliance - the Congress-NCP was almost wiped out (winning only six of the 48 seats). The rival ‘grand alliance’ ( Mahayuti) of the BJP, Sena and the other smaller parties like the Swabhimani Shetkari Paksha (SSP), RPI (Athwale faction) clinched all the remaining seats and also claimed more than half of the vote share ( over 51 per cent) to emerge as outright winners.

In 2009, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) had played a spoiler for the Sena especially in the Mumbai-Thane region. The Sena could effectively neutralise the politics of MNS in Mumbai this time and the saffron alliance could win all the six seats in the city. The election marked consolidation of the BJP-Sena alliance across all the regions of the State. The alliance reclaimed Vidarbha and also made a crucial dent in the western Maharashtra region which is typically seen as a bastion of the NCP. The only two successes for the Congress came from Marathwada but there too, the BJP-Sena alliance emerged as clear winners.

The victory of the BJP-Sena alliance can be explained at two levels. At one level, it can be seen as a part of the national mood which combined the anti-Congress feeling with the Modi euphoria. The Congress-NCP alliance was in power in the State consecutively for three terms. The long tenure of the government and its record of ineffective governance and charges of corruption actually provided enough reasons for an anti-incumbency feeling among voters. However, both in 2009 as well as in 2014 the NES voter studies do not record any sharp anti-government feeling among the voters of the state. And in that sense the anti-Congress verdict this time may be seen as more in tune with the national mood against the Congress and more importantly in favour of the BJP.

At the second level and within a more State specific context, the BJP-Sena victory is hugely supported by a drift of voters towards them across different social sections. The BJP-Sena voter is still likely to come more from the young, more educated, middle and higher middle classes and also most importantly from those who are highly exposed to media. However, this time, even the lower classes and those with lower level of education seem to have voted for the BJP-Sena in large numbers. The Congress-NCP combine could only compete with the saffron alliance among the non-literates and among those who are not at all exposed to media. Otherwise, even among the elderly and the poor, the BJP-Sena alliance enjoys a much enhanced support this time. More men than women tend to support the BJP–Sena, however, the gender advantage among women for the Congress party is neutralized.

Fragmentation of the Maratha vote has been a big story of Maharashtra elections throughout the past decade. The story is complete with many more Marathas supporting the BJP-Sena rather than the Congress-NCP alliance. It is not much surprising that more than 70 per cent of the upper caste voters rally behind the BJP–Sena. However, this time, the OBCs have also supported the alliance as nearly 60 per cent of them voted for the BJP-Sena alliance. The Adivasi vote is almost equally divided between the two alliances and that had an added advantage for the BJP alliance. Among the major Dalit communities in the State, only the neo Buddhists seem to have favoured the Congress-NCP to some extent. However, other Dalit communities have definitely supported the BJP-Sena alliance. The Congress retains its support only among the Muslims who constitute around ten per cent of the State’s population.

This kind of a complete erosion of the social support base for the Congress party in Maharashtra perhaps constitutes the most serious aspect of its electoral defeat this time and also underlines the long term challenges for the party. With social sections moving away from the party and with the BJP-Sena alliance establishing decisive control over more than 225 (out of 288) assembly segments in the State, the future of the Congress party appears to be bleak-not just in the upcoming Assembly Elections but in the long run also.

(Rajeshwari Deshpande teaches political science at the University of Pune. Nitin Birmal is with Dr. Babasaheb Amedkar College, Pune.)

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Printable version | Apr 5, 2020 4:32:21 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/maharashtra-the-last-fortress-falls/article6151743.ece

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