How trust in Narendra Modi, weak Opposition narrative aids ruling alliance in Maharashtra
This paradox reveals an underlying pattern in the Maharashtra election. In constituencies where the BJP candidate is weak, the image of Narendra Modi, the perception of the work done by the central government, and the organisational machine helps the contestant overcome weaknesses.Updated: Oct 20, 2019 16:30 IST
Urrty is a small hamlet in the Umred constituency of Nagpur district, the centre of Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region. Dada Rao is a driver from the village who is having a cup of tea. He is unhappy with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s local candidate for the assembly polls, Sudhir Parwe, who has served as a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) from the constituency for two consecutive terms. “He barely does any development work. They have just started work on a four-lane highway right before the election to fool us even though it had been sanctioned a long time ago. There are so many accidents that happen here.”
Sunil Deshmukh, who works to recover pending loans, is from the same village. He is unhappy about the state of the economy. “I meet lots of people and travel a lot. This includes small auto drivers who have taken a loan and those who have bought four wheelers. The bazaar, market, is thanda. And in this constituency, Parwe has not done much.”
Opposing BJP’s Sudhir Parwe is his relative, Raju Parwe of the Congress. Listening to the anger, it would seem obvious that both Rao and Deshmukh were planning to vote for change.
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But here, the script changes.
“Narendra Modi is doing an excellent job nationally. Who can match him? Look at all the government schemes he has bought. I got a gas cylinder. He has rolled out Ayushman Bharat,” says Rao. Has he availed of the health scheme yet? “No, I haven’t. But others have. We need to strengthen Modiji. Parwe doesn’t matter.” Deshmukh concurs. “Modiji got Rafale for the country. He is internationally capable. Imagine Rahul Gandhi being able to meet foreign leaders like Modi does. He would never have been able to do so.” But what about the economy? “It is not all Modiji’s fault. These things happen. The government will do something.”
On the other side of Nagpur is Amravati’s Teosa assembly segment, represented by Congress’ Yashomati Thakur. She is seen as a strong candidate, well-connected in Delhi, and is among the favourites to win from the party in the region.
In the main bazaar of Teosa on the highway, behind the Shiv Sena office, is a small shop.
Abhijit, who offered his first name only, is a small shopkeeper, whose family also has some land. He is open about his political preferences and says, “Yashomati is good. But what is the point of voting for her? The Congress is so weak both nationally, and in Maharashtra. There is no way it will be able to form the government in Mumbai. I will vote for the Sena candidate here. The Sena is with the BJP and they will win. At least, they will be able to get work done.”
This paradox reveals an underlying pattern in the Maharashtra election. In constituencies where the BJP candidate is weak, the image of Narendra Modi, the perception of the work done by the central government, and the organisational machine helps the contestant overcome weaknesses. In constituencies where the Congress candidate is strong, it is so only because of individual local influence, networks and a favourable caste coalition — but the perception of the national party, its central leadership, its past record, and its current state drags the contestant down and serves as a liability. To be sure, the Congress may still win Umred and Teosi. But the conversations indicate that despite apparent signs of discontent, there are limited channels for it to get manifested.
Where the BJP falters
There is palpable discontent about the current state of affairs — people are articulating grievances more sharply than one heard them do, in other states during the April-May Lok Sabha elections.
The Sant Gadge Baba Amravati University is one of the biggest in the region and is impressive in its infrastructure and scale. Behind the canteen, three students of Applied Electronics are sitting behind a tree. Amin Shah, Kunal Dharmade, and Shubham Bambal are classmates, all from various villages of Amravati. They warm up quickly to a conversation around politics.
Shah says, “The problem today is the economy. Young people are not getting jobs. Those getting jobs are not getting paid enough. And farmers get a bad deal for their crops. The government is not able to solve this fundamental problem.”
Dharmade, who belongs to a family of farmers, agrees. “Not everyone has got the ₹6000 promised under PM-Kisaan. The debt waiver promised by the Devendra Fadnavis government has not reached many homes, especially those of smaller farmers. My family sent me to college thinking I will get a job. But companies don’t come here for placement. I may get some private sector job for ₹7-8000 but you tell me, is that enough after doing a Masters course?”
Back in the Teosi, Umesh Dahake, a young student, has similar concerns. “All my family members are farmers. I must say Modiji has not paid enough attention to the kisaan. Farmer suicides are still happening, not as much in our area but in Yavatmal. The state government has not fulfilled its promises.”
The discontent is also widespread in another, perhaps not so surprising, constituency — Muslims. Abrar works with a travel firm and is a voter in the Nagpur central assembly constituency. He is concerned about Home Minister Amit Shah’s declaration of bringing a nationwide National Register of Citizens. “I have all my documents. But this seems targeted at us Muslims. I don’t know what BJP has against us. We have not done anything to them. There are some bad elements in every community. But they really look down upon all of us.”
And where it scores
But do not think that all these voices will translate into a particular voting behaviour which should worry the BJP.
Except the student, Amin Shah, and Abrar — both Muslims — none of the others who expressed disenchantment said they would vote against the BJP.
Instead, Teosa’s Dahake, who was critical of Modi on agriculture said, “Modiji is looking after the country. All his steps will pay us rich dividends in the future. I voted for him in the Lok Sabha and I will vote for the Sena because it is with him again in this assembly.”
Dharmade, the second student in Amravati, was even more certain. “The Congress got 70 years. Why should we not give the BJP another chance? They need time. All problems cannot be solved in one go.” His friend, Shubham Bambal agreed. “The Congress was so corrupt. There may some local level corruption in BJP but there are no major scams. Modiji has brought honesty to public life.”
And that is why the Congress is left depending on deeply local factors, rather than any overarching national narrative.
Nanak Ahuja, the publisher of Pratidin Khabar, an influential Amravati newspaper, analysed each seat in the district. There was a clear pattern: the constituencies where the Congress has a good chance are the ones where either they have a better candidate, or where the caste coalition of Kunbis and Dalits along with Muslims will vote for the party, or where the BJP is embroiled in internal factionalism, or where the BJP and Shiv Sena are publicly together but privately seeking to sabotage each other’s prospects. “The result here in Vidarbha may not be as positive for the BJP as it may hope. But there is no doubt that eventually, it will be a comfortable win for the BJP-Sena alliance in the state.”
It is in this complex maze — of emerging discontent amidst Modi’s popularity, with the Congress seen as weak — that the BJP is approaching the election in Vidarbha. It has reasons to be both worried in the long-term, but confident in the short-term.