Why western Maharashtra is crucial this poll season
There are two ways to look at the possible outcome of the Maharashtra elections. One is that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena alliance will do better than in 2014 (the two parties came together after those polls) and overwhelm the opposition, especially Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) alliance, and increase its majority in the state assembly. The second possibility is that the Congress-NCP alliance (the two fought the 2014 election separately) actually recovers some lost ground and its performance, compared to the 2014 state and the 2019 national elections in the state.
The BJP and Shiv Sena won 232 of 288 assembly segments in the state in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, 185 in the 2014 assembly election, and 226 in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The Congress and NCP won 42 assembly segments in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, 83 in the 2014 assembly election, and 45 in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
What eventually happens in the upcoming assembly election will depend a lot on the political outcome in 58 assembly constituencies (ACs) in the sub-region of Western Maharashtra. This region has traditionally been a Congress bastion and shifted towards Sharad Pawar when he formed the NCP in 1999. This dominance came under severe challenge in the 2014 elections.
Until the 2009 elections, this region used to be a bastion of sorts of the Congress and NCP. An analysis of assembly elections since 1990 shows this clearly.
Until the 2014 assembly elections, the combined vote share and seat share of the Congress and NCP has always been more than that of the BJP and Shiv Sena in this sub-region. Even in the 2014 assembly and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, when the BJP and Shiv Sena surged ahead of the Congress-NCP across the state, their lead was narrower in this region.
Western Maharashtra is the only sub-region where BJP and Shiv Sena have not been able to get past the two-thirds mark in terms of seat share across assembly constituencies in both the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The BJP and Shiv Sena won about 80% of ACs in the rest of the state in these two elections. These figures underline the political dominance which the BJP has achieved across the state since 2014. The fact that BJP and Shiv Sena’s seat share in 2014 assembly elections was lower, needs to be seen in the context that the parties were not in an alliance and fought separately.
The sub-region classification has been borrowed from the database compiled by Trivedi Centre for Political Data (TCPD) at Ashoka University. The other sub-regions along with Western Maharashtra — Konkan, Marathwada, Vidarbha and Khandesh — have 75, 46, 62 and 47 seats, respectively.
Even though the BJP and Shiv Sena have not been able to completely rout the opposition in Western Maharashtra like in the rest of the state, they have been slowly gaining ground there too. Not only have BJP and Shiv Sena increased their seat share and vote share in this region, they have also managed to cut into the victory margins of the Congress-NCP alliance. The median victory margin of the BJP and Shiv Sena increased between the 2009 and 2014 assembly polls. For the Congress and NCP, on the other hand, victory margins in this region have been declining since the 2009 Lok Sabha election.
The 2014 assembly elections have not been included in this analysis, as they saw a multi-cornered contest with all four major parties contesting separately.
It remains to be seen whether the Congress-NCP can save its last region of influence in the state.