How Sharad Pawar managed to woo back Marathas
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar’s attempts to win back Maratha votes that had gone to the ruling combine proved to be a key factor in improving the party’s tally and impacting the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prospects, compared to 2014 elections.
The NCP increased its seats in the Assembly to 54 from 41 in 2014. How did he do this? By playing on Maratha pride by creating a perception that Pawar — the tallest Maratha leader in current political scenario — is being targeted by the Centre.
The party gained in western, north Maharashtra and central Maharashtra, where the community is in majority. The NCP won eight seats more in western Maharashtra and two in North Maharashtra and retained its tally in Marathwada. The party’s performance improved in Kolhapur, Ahmednagar, Sangli, Beed and Latur districts of Western Maharashtra and Marathwada. Twenty-six of the 54 MLAs of the party come from western Maharashtra.
During the two Lok Sabha elections between 2014 and 2019 and the Assembly and local body elections in five years, the BJP enjoyed strong support of Marathas, besides its traditional vote base of Other Backward Classes. Disillusioned with the Congress-NCP rule for not meeting the demand of reservation and social schemes, the community shifted to the saffron party. The BJP could win maximum local bodies including corporations, district councils, panchayat samitis, with support from the community over the past five years. The BJP successfully enacted the reservation for Marathas in education and jobs, but the community youth were disappointed over the delay in recruitments in government jobs.
Sensing the shift of its traditional support base, Pawar, 79, used his political experience of 52 years. “The party’s outreach programme undertaken ahead of the Assembly elections was named as ‘Shiv Swarajya Yatra’ and was spearheaded by actor-turned-politician and party MP Amol Kolhe, who is known for playing roles of Chhatrapati Shivaji and Sambhaji in popular television serials. Invoking Shivaji party appealed the community, but kept the tone subtle. Pawar also ensured OBC leaders such as Dhananjay Munde and Kolhe himself were kept at the forefront,” said a senior NCP leader.
The party also used social media to reach youngsters in rural Maharashtra, who responded positively to Pawar in party ‘s traditional support areas where the BJP had made inroads in the past few years.
“When the BJP was winning the Maratha youth under the name of Hindutva, Pawar resorted to Hinduism, followed by King Shivaji to win them back. He ensured that not only Marathas, but OBC faces like Amol Kolhe, Jitendra Avhad, Chhagan Bhujbal and Muslim faces like Mehboob Shaikh were with him. Besides Marathas, the NCP and even the Congress are gaining back the support of Marathas and OBCs,” said Prakash Pawar, political analyst from Kolhapur.
The Enforcement Directorate’s move to include Pawar’s name over alleged involvement in the scam in Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank’s came as a blessing for the party. Pawar turned the episode into ‘Delhi versus Maharashtra pride’ battle which appealed to the Maratha voters, who were convinced that Pawar was being targeted. “Many in the community saw it as unwarranted harassment of their patriarch leader. It backfired on the BJP-led government,” said Balasaheb Sarate, a Maratha leader who was involved in agitations and negotiations with the government over the issue of Maratha reservation.
Similarly, the local administration’s mismanagement in handling flood in western Maharashtra did not help the saffron combine’s cause. Pawar activated the local party units who were quick to reach out to the affected people from Kolhapur, Sangli and Satara when the government response was delayed. Pawar himself was amongst the first political leaders to reach out to the flood affected areas.
“Shifting of the Maratha vote bank to NCP is one of the factors proved in our favour this election. Also, there was anger among the people over the ED notice to Pawarsaheb whose contribution in the development of the state is unparallel,” said senior NCP leader Dilip Walse Patil.
Leaders from the Congress and NCP feel that Pawar has managed to get the support of the community that had always stood by him, but voted for the BJP owing to the Modi factor in 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections as well as 2014 Assembly elections. If the opposition parties concentrate on their Maratha and OBC support base, the next few years could see the change in the state politically.