The Maharashtra assembly election was always going to be significant for the two national parties, the Congress and the BJP. Now that their state alliances with the NCP and the Shiv Sena respectively, are a thing of the past, the election has turned into a game-changer for all the parties, indeed for the state’s politics itself.
The election is now a political theatre with an ensemble cast instead of two lead players performing expected roles. The double divorce — between the BJP and the Sena after 25 years, and the Congress and NCP after 15 years — has ended protracted negotiations between the former allies about the various permutations and combinations of seats each would contest.
This has reduced the time for campaigning to barely two weeks. Maharashtra is scheduled to vote on October 15. At the end of the wrangling, Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan resigned.
With four major parties in the ring and the MNS becoming the fifth player in a few areas, the election has turned into half a dozen regional elections with each party marking out its strongest territory to make up the numbers.
The BJP, for example, hopes to strike it rich in its traditional strongholds such as Vidarbha while the NCP will go for the kill in its bastion, western Maharashtra.
This also means the campaigning could see a fair amount of national versus the regional card being played; a peculiar matrix that puts the Sena and the NCP on the same side arguing for Marathi and Maharashtra’s asmita (identity) that they claim is threatened by the BJP leadership’s bias towards Gujarat in the age-old competition between the two states.
Given the fissured political landscape, the half-way mark in the 288-member assembly seems difficult for any one party, opening up spaces for different kinds of post-poll alliances. Maharashtra is not new to post-poll coalitions of convenience.
Sharad Pawar forged one with the Congress in 1999, less than six months after he had questioned Sonia Gandhi’s credentials to lead her party and stormed out to set up the NCP.
If the BJP emerges as the single largest party and the Sena stands weakened, it may even seek a post-poll alliance with the latter. This would be a dream realised for the BJP’s new leadership — partnership with Uddhav Thackeray’s Sena, on terms substantially revised in its favour. It is no secret that the BJP wants to see one of its own as the next CM.
The coveted position was at the heart of the battle between the Congress and the NCP too. In the hectic politicking, issues that should have dominated the election have been relegated to the background.
Maharashtra election is anybody’s game now — a situation that turns the smaller free radicals into king-makers.