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Lok Sabha polls: A picture in contrast

Many in the Congress-NCP are now the split in the Opposition votes by Prakash Ambedkar-led Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi

mumbai Updated: May 27, 2019 23:36 IST
Shailesh Gaikwad
Shailesh Gaikwad
Hindustan Times
The BJP-Shiv Sena alliance  in Maharashtra earned a victory in the recent Lok Sabha election
The BJP-Shiv Sena alliance in Maharashtra earned a victory in the recent Lok Sabha election (HT Photo)
         

The results of the Lok Sabha elections in Maharashtra are now out and as expected, the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena alliance has dominated the state. The victory of the ruling alliance was not surprising, but the way they won has obviously shocked the Opposition Congress-NCP led coalition. Many in the Congress-NCP are now blaming various factors, including the split in the Opposition votes by Prakash Ambedkar-led Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) for their defeat. Some of that or all of that could be true, but there are also certain factors that made the difference between the BJP and the Congress. And if these factors contributed to their defeat, the opposition parties, especially Congress, are to blame for it.

FORMING ALLIANCES

This was one aspect where the BJP scored over the Congress in Maharashtra. It quickly sealed a seat-sharing pact conceding Palghar constituency to the Sena along with its sitting MP. The BJP had won the seat with a significant margin after a bitter contest with the Sena in the bypolls held last year. It also worked out an arrangement with the Sena for the Assembly elections to get the ally on board. It later even gave a candidate to the Sena for Satara constituency. On the other hand, the Congress, the NCP and their smaller allies kept bickering over distribution of seats till a few days before the nominations were filed. The controversy over Ahmednagar seat vitiated the atmosphere in the alliance as senior Congress leader Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil chose to go against his party while insisting the NCP should concede its seat to Congress. The Congress also took time to give Sangli seat to its ally Raju Shetti.

CANDIDATE SELECTION

The same argument is applicable to selection of candidates. What should have been decided months in advance was not done till the nomination process for the election started. Candidate selection in the Congress turned into a messy affair with too many leaders intervening. In case of Chandrapur constituency, the central leadership rejected the state unit’s recommendation and accepted it only after a controversy. Ironically, the candidate (Suresh Dhanorkar) turned out to be the only Congress candidate to win from Maharashtra. In contrast, the candidate selection was largely done in a systematic manner by the ruling parties. The BJP did its homework properly to pick candidates namely Bharati Pawar, Sujay Vikhe Patil, Sunil Mendhe, Prataprao Chikhlikar (who defeated state Congress chief Ashok Chavan) and Kanchan Kul. Except Kul, all these candidates won their seats.

SETTING THE AGENDA

It’s common knowledge now that the BJP executed its plan to set the agenda for the election in a much better way than the Congress. In the state, there were signs of rural distress, but the party handled it well. The BJP government in the state ensured the first instalment of ₹2,000 under the Centre’s Kisan Samman Yojna (₹6,000 for farmers a year) reached the beneficiaries before the election. The loans of most farmers were already waived. It created goodwill for the BJP and the party knew how to encash it. The Congress was relying heavily on two issues – Rafale controversy and direct cash benefit scheme, NYAY, but adequate efforts were not taken to take them to the people. The entire Congress thought NYAY would be a game changer, but the main target of the scheme, the poor, were not even aware of the same.

IGNORING URBAN AREAS

It looked like the Congress-NCP had almost given up on major cities. No plan was in place to win back voters in cities such as Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Nagpur and Aurangabad. On the other hand, the BJP-Sena was aggressive in wooing urban voters. Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has given priority to build infrastructure in major cities. In Mumbai alone, his government is building a 119-km long network of Metro. This created a perception among urban voters that the BJP-led government was working for them.

RAJ VS AMBEDKAR

The Congress-NCP relied on Raj Thackeray to damage the prospects of BJP-Sena in Mumbai and other major cities. However, he could not create a dent in the saffron alliance’s support. The BJP responded immediately and countered his allegations. In contrast, the Congress-NCP could not counter Ambedkar-Owaisi’s front, VBA, even though it was becoming clear that the latter would eat into their vote share. The split into opposition votes led to loss of Congress-NCP candidates in more than half a dozen constituencies.

Above all, the difference between the two alliances was chief minister Fadnavis who took charge of the election for the saffron alliance. He even paid attention to the constituencies of Sena. He called up BJP MLAs and warned them that they would not get party tickets if Sena candidates get less votes than their rivals in their Assembly segments. It had the desired effect in several constituencies, including Maval where Ajit Pawar’s son Parth was contesting opposite Sena MP Shrirang Barne.

After the Lok Sabha, both the alliances would be gearing up for a bigger battle in the state as Assembly elections will be held in September-October. Will both the alliances perform similarly when it comes to the above factors? We will see in four months.

First Published: May 27, 2019 23:36 IST

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