Lok Sabha elections 2019: A battle of alliances in western Maharashtra
Five years later, the same issue is likely to hurt the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the region, where the Dhangar (shepherd) community is up in arms against the ruling party for not keeping its word. “We believed them (BJP) in 2014 but not anymore,” said Sandeep Tambe, a resident of the village. “The chief minister (Devendra Fadnavis) had promised to do it in his first cabinet meeting. In five years, he has not even mentioned a word about it,” said Anna Masal.
The Dhangars have been agitating ever since the CongressNCP government in 2014 announced 16% reservation for Marathas in jobs and education. The move angered the Dhangars who intensified their protests in a bid to put pressure on the government to accept their demand.
The Dhangars, who are at present classified in the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category, have significant influence in Baramati, Satara, Sangli, Madha and Solapur constituencies. And, their shifting political loyalties underline the challenge for the ruling and opposition alliances in the 14 seats in Maharashtra that go to the polls on Tuesday.
Elections will be held in Jalgaon, Raver (north Maharashtra), Jalna, Aurangabad (Marathwada), Raigad, Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg (Konkan), Pune, Baramati, Madha, Sangli, Satara, Kolhapur, Hathkanangale (western Maharashtra) and Ahmednagar seats.
The western Maharashtra sugar-belt region is considered a stronghold of the NCP, which is fighting in seven seats. Its coalition partner, the Congress is fighting on five seats, while the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS) of farmer leader Raju Shetti is contesting on two seats.
The SSS was a part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in 2014 but subsequently left it over the agrarian crisis.
Western Maharashtra was once a Congress stronghold but the grand old party consistently lost grip over the region which produced some of the state’s most powerful chief ministers, including Yashwantrao Balwantrao Chavan (Satara), Vasantrao Banduji Patil, better known as Vasantdada Patil (Sangli), Sushil Kumar Shinde (Solapur) and Prithviraj Chavan (Satara). NCP chief Sharad Pawar too, was a Congress chief minister from this belt (Pune) only.
The Congress first struck an alliance with the NCP, which broke away from the Congress in 1999, to form a coalition government in Maharashtra, the same year itself. Since then, the two parties have been engaged in a battle of oneupmanship.
Despite winning more seats in the 1999 and 2004 assembly elections, the NCP conceded the chief minister’s post to the Congress in return for more ministerial berths. However, the Congress performed better than the NCP in 2009, winning 82 of the 288 seats. The NCP bagged 62 seats.
The two parties parted ways in 2014, resulting in the victory of the BJP in both the Lok Sabha and the assembly elections.
Out of the 48 Lok Sabha seats, the BJP won 23 and the Shiv Sena 18 in the 2014 elections. On the other hand, the NCP bagged 4 and the Congress 2. In assembly elections the same year, the BJP won 122 seats, followed by the Shiv Sena with 63. The Congress and the NCP secured 42 and 41 seats, respectively.
While Congress and NCP have joined hands, the BJP and the Shiv Sena too, came together despite being at each other’s throat for the past four and a half years.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP-Shiv Sena combine had registered a significant victory in western Maharashtra, winning seven of the 12 seats.
But the two parties later separately fought the assembly elections. The challenge for both the BJP and the Shiv Sena is to ensure cohesiveness between their leaders and workers and that the tie-up percolates down to the booths . For that, the two alliance partners have appointed coordinators to ensure unity among the cadre across the state.
The NCP controls a large number of sugar cooperatives in the region and that has helped it in its expansion bid. The cooperatives are the power and financial centres in these areas.
“NCP has done a lot for us. We got a farm loan waiver during UPA’s time,” said Ganesh Sheri, a sugarcane farmer from Wadgaon village in Satara. For his 82-year-old father Ramchand Eknath Sheri, politics starts and ends with Pawar.
Apart from Pawar’s daughter in Baramati, the sons of two other powerful politicians Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil and Narayan Rane are also fighting the Lok Sabha elections.
While senior Congress leader Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil’s son Sujay Vikhe-Patil is contesting as a BJP candidate from Ahmednagar, former chief minister Narayan Rane’s son Nilesh Rane is contesting from Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg on the ticket of his father’s Maharashtra Swabhimani Paksha party.
Sujay Vikhe-Patil joined the BJP after the NCP refused to vacate the Ahmednagar seat for the Congress. He is now pitted against NCP’s Sangram Jagtap while Rane is up against Shiv Sena’s Vinayak Raut.
“The BJP has done a lot for farmers. Out of Rs 6000 announced by the Modi government, we have already got the first installment of Rs 2000,” said Vishal Shetti of Peth village in Hatkanangale constituency, referring to the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi scheme, which guarantees a minimum income of Rs 6000 to farmers.
It was announced in the interim Budget of 2019, after multiple farmers rallies were held in the state, and across the country, including one in Delhi that saw thousands of farmers congregate in the capital to protest against rising prices and agrarian crisis.