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Monday, Nov 18, 2019

2019 Maharashtra polls: Your vote matters. Make it count.

There are 3,237 candidates in the fray for 288 Assembly seats in the state and 333 candidates fighting for 36 seats in Mumbai. Their fate will be sealed in the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) today and Maharashtra’s verdict will be announced on Thursday.

assembly-elections Updated: Oct 21, 2019 06:56 IST
Ketaki Ghoge
Ketaki Ghoge
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
EVM distribution started at Yusuf Ismail College,Jogeshwari(E) in Mumbai, on Sunday.
EVM distribution started at Yusuf Ismail College,Jogeshwari(E) in Mumbai, on Sunday.(Satyabrata Tripathy/HT Photo)
         

It’s time for voters in Maharashtra to turn out in large numbers – like they did in the 2014 Assembly elections – to decide the future of two political alliances, several heavyweights and their state. Monday’s polling will decide if the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)-led Opposition front can hold their own against the election juggernaut of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led saffron combine in Maharashtra.

There are 3,237 candidates in the fray for 288 Assembly seats in the state and 333 candidates fighting for 36 seats in Mumbai. Their fate will be sealed in the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) today and Maharashtra’s verdict will be announced on Thursday.

If the BJP can achieve its aim of winning 135+ seats on its own, as estimated by its leadership, the state will see the reinforcement of a single-party domination narrative, which started five years ago.

This will be a clear break away from the norm between 1995 and 2014, when the four main parties shared Maharashtra’s political space in varying degrees at different times.

The Opposition, however, is counting on turning saffron ambition, emboldened by its winning 41 of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in the state earlier this year, on its head and protecting their turf.

Meanwhile, the Shiv Sena, which has been reduced to the junior partner in the saffron alliance, could hold the cards to how the state’s polity looks for the next five years.

“How many seats the Shiv Sena gets in this election will be crucial, as it will decide the survival of the party and the future of the saffron alliance. The Congress-NCP tally, the impact of the rebels, the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) factor will all come into play to decide the political future of the state,” said political analyst Surendra Jondhale.

THE POLL BATTLE

The past three weeks since the elections were announced on October 9 saw intense campaigning, with all parties bringing in their bigwigs to win over the voters.

While the BJP may have campaigned hard, with everyone from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Union home minister Amit Shah to other Union ministers, and of course, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis (who covered 230 constituencies) holding rallies, the NCP’s campaign led by its 79-year-old chief, Sharad Pawar, also got its share of traction.

What began as an entirely one-sided poll battle, in favour of the saffron combine on the heels of mass defections from the Opposition, quickly took on many hues.

It became an electoral fight between Fadnavis and BJP’s senior leadership against Pawar, especially after the Enforcement Directorate (ED) filed a case against the latter in the Maharashtra State Co-operative (MSC) Bank scam.

A video of a rain-soaked Pawar addressing a rally in Satara last week exemplified this tussle of a veteran politician against a powerful opponent.

“Pawar aggressively campaigning and taking on BJP’s top brass, which was targeting him, was a turning point. It rejuvenated our cadre and helped consolidate our vote bank. Until then, it seemed as if the Opposition had no fight in it,’’ said a senior NCP leader.

With BJP and Sena rebels contesting as many as 50 seats, the poll battle also turned into a fight within the saffron camp, which Fadnavis, in an interview to HT, admitted could impact poll prospects, but “marginally”.

In Konkan, this rebellion, a tacit tussle between the allies, is most evident via a friendly contest in all three seats of Sindhudurg district, between BJP and Sena.

In many seats, it is a fight of political heavyweights, trying to protect their bastions, whether from the Opposition or those who shifted their loyalties to the BJP-Sena just ahead of the elections. Former CM Prithviraj Chavan (Karad), Ashok Chavan (Bhokar), deputy CMs Ajit Pawar (Baramati), Chhagan Bhujbal (Yeola), former ministers Harshawardhan Patil (Indapur), Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil (Shirdi), Balasaheb Thorat (Sangamner), Jaydutt Kshirsagar (Beed) are all fighting for survival and/or a second chance.

This will also be a poll fight of generation-next leaders, making their electoral debuts. Despite BJP’s avowed opposition to dynasts, the Maharashtra poll stage is chock-a-block with such candidates fielded by all parties.

Sena’s Aaditya Thackeray, son of party chief Uddhav; NCP’s Rohit Pawar, grandnephew of NCP chief Sharad Pawar; Aditi Tatkare, daughter of NCP MP Sunil Tatkare; Dhiraj Deshmukh, son of the late Congress leader Vilasrao Deshmukh; Santosh Danve, son of Union minister Raosaheb Danve; Rohini Khadse, daughter of senior BJP leader Eknath Khadse are just few of the high-profile candidates making a debut this election.

Poll issues and highlights

Instead of the Opposition setting the agenda and putting the government on the mat over economic slowdown, drought or agrarian crisis, the BJP set the agenda for the elections. The scrapping of Article 370, which gave a special status to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), along with nationalism, were turned into poll planks.

The Opposition hit back eventually, questioning how Kashmir could be a central issue in Maharashtra elections.

“Kashmir was not our main poll plank, but why shouldn’t it be an agenda. Our party’s focus is development with nationalism. However, if you look at my speeches, our manifesto, we have clearly said that drought-free Maharashtra and making Maharashtra a one-trillion-dollar economy will be our focus in the next five years,” said Fadnavis.

He also said that people across the state had given them maximum response when they spoke about Kashmir.

The Congress leadership seemed missing in action as party leaders got engrossed in fighting their individual constituency battles. Former PM Manmohan Singh’s press conference in the last week of the campaign was effective, but several political observers felt he should have been asked to discuss the economy much earlier.

The ED case against Pawar as well as a later probe against NCP’s senior leader Praful Patel over an alleged business transaction with the late Iqbal Mirchi, a close aide of fugitive gangster Dawood Ibrahim, also became talking points in the polls.

“The Opposition was not successful in making the economy a central poll plank, despite it being evident on the ground. This was also because most main Congress-NCP leaders were busying fighting their constituency battles. At the same time, it remains to be seen if people will positively respond to BJP’s Kashmir issue as a poll plank,” said Jondhale.