The BJP has dramatically altered the political landscape of Maharashtra. At the time of going to press, it had won more than 120 seats in the 288-member assembly making it the single-largest party but placing it short of a majority.
The BJP has several options now: It could bolster its numbers through independents, or it could consider the unilateral generous offer made by the NCP, or it can work out an understanding on new terms with its former ally, the Shiv Sena. Whatever the contours of the government, the next chief minister in a hitherto Congress stronghold state will be a BJP person. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, once again, turned electioneering into a high-voltage micro-managed combat — with positive results.
Even so, Mr Modi and Mr Shah would rue the fact that the BJP did not get a clear majority. It was the central theme of the expansive Modi campaign. It would have enabled the leaders to install their handpicked person as chief minister and carry out their agenda in an unhindered manner. Tactically, the party may not have been astute in calling off the Shiv Sena alliance before the polls. But strategically, the BJP has come up trumps. For the first time, it is in the driver’s seat and can dictate its terms to suitors queuing up at the door. For the Congress, this drubbing should come as no surprise. The party in Maharashtra has been weighed down by severe anti-incumbency, a lacklustre leadership and is a house badly divided. A coherent Opposition is unlikely to emerge from this mess. The NCP has been reduced to a sub-regional one in a part of the state. The MNS will have to go back to the drawing board. The rise of the Muslim hardline party All Indian Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen will be watched with interest.
More than any other party, it’s the Shiv Sena that will be affected by a BJP government, irrespective of the relationship between them. The BJP will seek to expand its network. It will pose a direct challenge to all regional parties but mostly to the Sena. In the altered balance of power between them, the Sena now needs the BJP to stay in control of the cash-rich Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation and to keep its lone Union minister in power. The assembly vote is also a referendum against the Sena’s identity politics; it brings diminishing returns at best. Beyond all this, it is a mandate for political change. If the BJP is able to strike up a productive partnership, the next government will be able to work smoothly.