As an honorary Maharashtrian – though I have roots both in South and North India – I have always been proud of what I consider Maharashtra’s pioneering role in nation-building. In history books at school, we were taught that Bengal was the thought leader in this country – `what Bengal thinks today, India does tomorrow’. But I have noticed that to be truer of my adopted state – where Maharashtra leads, the nation follows, whether it is in reformist movements of the past and present, or even the regressive ones (like the beef ban).
So I cannot help think that the mixed results coming out of the first and second rounds of local self-government elections might be a precursor of what might happen during the Uttar Pradesh and Punjab elections early next year. The BJP, of course, is in the lead in the number of seats won at the municipal council polls, but a closer look reveals that the Congress has not been far behind in th number of seats at thee councils. The BJP did did far better in the direct Nagar Adhyaksh elections, though there are councils such as Yeola in Nashik district where the BJP won the chairman’s post, but only four seats in the council and is in minority in that local body. The Shiv Sena, however, swept all six municipal councils here in terms of seats, and though it might be happy that one bete noire, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, got only half a dozen seats all across, its latest “enemy’’ the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad –e-Muslimeen, at more than thrice that tally, has not done too badly either across Vidarbha, Marathwada and North Maharashtra at their first foray in semi- urban areas. Even the Communists swept Talasari in Palghar district from where malnutrition deaths have been reported in recent weeks and the Swabhimani Shetkari Sangathana did well in pockets. But the Sena did finish last in terms of councils captured (just 14), which must be a cause for concern, considering it has always been either first or second at every election since 1990, with or without an alliance with the BJP.
While the Congress and the NCP, bracketed between these two, have not quite been wiped out in terms of councils captured, perhaps the biggest victory for the two parties is that they defeated Minister for Women and Child Welfare Pankaja Munde on her home turf – her candidates for chairperson lost to the NCP and the Congress in Parli and Ambejogai respectively, and the Congress repeated the feat on BJP state president Raosaheb Danve’s home turf Bhokardan, winning that council’s chairmanship. Narayan Rane of the Congress made what Twitterati described as a `swashbuckling’ comeback in the Konkan. But then there were the jolts with Prithviraj Chavan of the Congress and Jayant Patil of the NCP, losing ground on their respective home turfs in Western Maharashtra. And what of the royal cousins, both direct descendants of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj? Both Udayan Raje and Shivendra Raje Bhonsle belong to the NCP, and were in a fight for Satara with their respective panels – Udayan took the body with some tacit support from the Shiv Sena, which had come down in his favour when he described the demonetisation as a potential for the ‘loot of banks’.
Although the BJP has much to crow about, I wonder, with nearly 30 bodies which have given a hung verdict where the Congress and NCP are in lead in more than half the seats if this s a decisive election. So far as Maharashtra goes, there has been much unrest on the ground not just since demonetisation, which is causing a lot of hardship to the rural poor, but for months before - manifest in the agitations by all communities including Marathas, Muslims, Dalits and Brahmins. As Professor Prakash Pawar of the Shivaji University in Kolhapur had told me before these elections, “ The situation on the ground is very fluid. No one knows which way the voters will swing. The public mood is against every political dispensation because no political party has conducted itself better than any other.’’
The results on the ground prove him quite right and I cannot help but think the same confusion might be reflective of what is happening across other states in the country. So will we have to get ‘un-used’ to the decisive victories we have seen since 2014 (or even before with the BSP and Samajwadi Party in UP)? Or are we facing an era of split verdicts again?