Maha polls: MNS, VBA up for a fight
Amid what is believed to be a straight contest between the two alliances in Maharashtra, the BJP-Shiv Sena and Opposition Congress-NCP combine, will two outfits – Prakash Ambedkar’s Vanchit Bahujan Aaghadi (VBA) and Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) – upset the Assembly calculations?
Consider this: The VBA turned out to be a spoiler for the Congress-NCP in this year’s Lok Sabha elections, splitting the Opposition votes in eight constituencies, leading to their defeat. The MNS, on the other hand, denied a victory to the BJP-Shiv Sena in 2009, when it ate into the saffron combine’s vote bank in urban areas of the state.
THE VBA FACTOR
After the 2018 Bhima-Koregaon violence, Prakash Ambedkar took centrestage in Dalit politics. Soon, he formed the VBA, a front with a focus on Dalits, other backward castes and minorities, in an alliance with the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM). They put up candidates in all 48 Lok Sabha seats.
The VBA-AIMIM surprised everyone, when it garnered 41.08 lakh votes in the state, bringing its tally to 7.63% of the total votes polled. One of them, Imtiyaz Jalil of AIMIM got elected from Aurangabad, defeating senior Sena MP Chandrakant Khaire. The votes polled by VBA candidates also led to the defeat of two former chief ministers, Ashok Chavan and Sushilkumar Shinde.
Although the VBA has broken its alliance with the AIMIM, the VBA has fielded candidates in 274 Assembly constituencies. In the Assembly polls, where the margins are thin, if the VBA is able to swing a couple of thousand votes, it could affect the prospects of other candidates, especially the Opposition.
Noted Marathi writer Laxman Mane, who quit the VBA recently accusing Ambedkar of colluding with the BJP, said although the VBA wave has faded, it can still damage the Congress-NCP combine. “The VBA got lakhs of votes as people saw it as a credible alternative to both the BJP as well as the Congress-NCP. The voters are now disappointed, as their votes benefited the BJP-Sena combine,” he said. “However, the VBA candidates are still in a position to get more than 10,000 votes in several constituencies. This is enough to upset the Congress-NCP calculations and ensure the win for the ruling alliance.”
Political analyst Hemant Desai said: “Although the VBA’s strength has reduced, it still retains the potential to damage the Congress-NCP. This is aptly demonstrated as the BJP does not criticise the VBA.”
Ambedkar has once again started aggressively campaigning using private aircraft to criss-cross across the state. “The entire campaign is funded by the RSS lobby and the aim is to split the votes in favour of the BJP-Sena,” alleged Mane.
Ambedkar, however, dismissed all allegations, saying he should not be held accountable for the decline of the Congress-NCP combine.
“I am not there to ensure the survival of the Congress and their allies. It is because of the Congress and NCP that my candidates were defeated in the Lok Sabha polls. If they were interested in securing secular votes, they should have agreed to my offer and taken 144 seats,” he said.
THE MNS EFFECT
The MNS did not contest the Lok Sabha elections, but its chief Raj Thackeray campaigned against the BJP-Sena. His campaign created a flutter, but did not
The MNS has planned to field a little over 103 candidates in the Assembly elections. Currently, most senior leaders namely Bala Nandgaonkar and Nitin Sardesai have opted out of the race. However, the MNS has called it a strategy.
“It is a well thought-out strategy by Rajsaheb to encourage new blood to enter the political fray. We seniors are working for them,” said Nandgaonkar. He said the MNS is still strong at the grassroot level.
Both the critics as well as political analysts feel the VBA is weakened, but still remains a factor which would upset the calculations of the Congress-NCP to the benefit of the BJP-Shiv
In contrast, the MNS remains a demoralised outfit and may not make much of a difference in the overall scenario, they claim.
“Following the crushing defeat in the 2014 Assembly and 2017 civic polls as well as large-scale defections, the MNS is a demoralised force. It is currently at its lowest. It has made some seat adjustments with the NCP, but its impact will be very marginal,” said political commentator Prakash Bal.