The Bharatiya Janata Party has proved a point in Maharashtra. Certainly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah did. After two and half decades of trailing behind its dominant and aggressive ally, Shiv Sena, the party tested its strength and relevance in the state – with exciting results. With a lead in more than 115 seats at 1pm, the BJP has clearly supplanted the Congress as the principal political party in the state.
The BJP would have hammered home its new status had it won a clear majority in the 288-member Assembly. It could not. It is all set now to lead an alliance, and therefore, the next government in Maharashtra, a state in which it had only 46 seats in the last Assembly. But it will not enjoy the comprehensive mandate that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had sought during his high-pitch election campaign in the last two weeks.
This mandate has shaken up Maharashtra’s polity. New alignments and equations between parties are emerging.
One, between the BJP and the Sena, the debate about the lead partner – “big brother” status as it is often referred to – has been clearly settled. The BJP is likely to use this to deepen its organisation and expand its network at the expense of other parties but most certainly the Sena. A post-poll alliance or any arrangement between the two parties, if formed now, cannot but be uncomfortable for the Sena. Uddhav Thackeray may still decide to join – or re-join – forces with the BJP but there’s no doubt that the Sena will not have the leverage it enjoyed in the last 25 years.
Two, the Sena’s favourite calling card of identity politics did not work as well as its leaders assumed it would. Uddhav Thackeray flagged off the Marathi versus Gujarati issue, suggesting that a BJP government was set to cleave the state to form a separate Vidarbha and possibly separate Mumbai from the rest of the state. Voters did not embrace this to the extent that the Sena’s leadership assumed they would.
Three, the Sena’s variant Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) which played a stronger and more offensive brand of identity politics has been reduced to barely 4 seats from the 13 it had won in 2009. Identity politics may draw some sympathy from the aggrieved but it is not enough to win elections. This is a positive trend but only when both the Senas draw the right lessons from it.
Four, the Congress and its off-shoot Nationalist Congress Party were running neck-and-neck in the seats tally at noon: 44 to the Congress and 46 to the NCP. Both dropped seats from their previous tally of 82 and 62 in 2009, but between them, the Congress has taken a bigger hit. The massive anti-incumbency did them in but the unabashed effort from both the parties to pull down the other has had its impact too. The Congress is a house badly divided. It has saved itself from a total rout but a tally under 50 is no good at all. The NCP’s influence has been reduced to some regions within the state. Will they join forces to consolidate the anti-BJP vote? Logic suggests they should but political and ego battles between their leaders will deem it otherwise.
The Assembly mandate shows another trend about the BJP and the Sena. Together, they could have won many more seats. If their combined Lok Sabha tally of 23 and 18 seats is extrapolated to the Assembly segments, they could have won more than 220-230 seats. Contesting independent of each other has hurt both, but seems to have damaged the Sena more than the BJP.
The Assembly 2014 election will be remembered for at least two other trends emerging at this time. The All Indian Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen’s (MIM) has opened its tally in the state; it has won Byculla in Mumbai and Aurangabad (East). The impact of MIM’s brand of politics will be closely watched. Then, this election has seen the rout of well-entrenched leaders such as Narayan Rane in his homestead Kudal in the Konkan region. Rane was the campaign committee chief for the Congress. That he could not win his own seat reflects on the state of the party, as it were.