Maharashtra assembly polls: Saffron may win, but Opposition will put up a fight
When the elections were declared on September 21, it looked like a one-sided election and the impression was that the ruling alliance would return to power with a thumping majority.
As the campaign is over and the votes are to be cast on Monday, there is a realisation within the ruling combine that there is contest in constituencies across the state.
The BJP-Sena alliance is better placed to win the election, but the Opposition is putting up a fight.
The assessment in the BJP is the alliance will win around 200 seats, with the BJP getting 135-145 seats and the Sena around 70. The tally will cross 200, if the rebels do not damage their prospects much. The BJP insiders say the party will get a simple majority on its own, with the help of a few independents who would be elected. “The Sena’s seats will be a bonus for a strong majority in the Assembly, but we won’t have to rely on the Sena for the survival of the government,” said a senior party leader, who did not want to be named.
The Maharashtra Assembly has 288 seats and 145 MLAs are needed for a simple majority. Sena leaders think their party would get close to 100 seats.
The Opposition camp thinks the ruling alliance would be in the range of 150-170 seats, and the Opposition would cross 100 seats, depending on certain calculations. They are betting big on the discontent in certain sections and the rebels who may damage the chances of the ruling parties in about 30 constituencies. This would mean a comfortable majority for the BJP-Sena, as it is way above the mark of 145. At the same time, this would mean the Opposition has managed to retain its space, despite the landslide victory of the BJP in the Lok Sabha six months ago and large-scale defections of established leaders from both the parties. In the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP-Sena candidates were leading in 227 out of the 288 Assembly segments.
So what can be the reason behind this?
According to information from different quarters, the ground situation in three regions – western Maharashtra, central Maharashtra (Marathwada) and Vidarbha – is not entirely favourable for the ruling combine. There is some discontent, especially in rural areas, as a large section of farmers continues to suffer due to farm crisis—from drought to low prices to crops to indebtedness. In western Maharashtra, the unhappiness over the government’s handling of flash floods may also affect the ruling parties in a few seats.
The second factor is Sharad Pawar. He has managed to limit the damage to the Opposition with his spirited campaign. The NCP is trying to use the Enforcement Directorate notice to party chief Sharad Pawar in the Maharashtra State Cooperative (MSC) Bank case to its advantage. It may help the party in its traditional support areas of western and central Maharashtra.
The Opposition also tried to keep the narrative focused on economic slowdown and its fallout, handling of drought by the government and shortage of jobs.
The Opposition leaders have been slamming the BJP leaders for seeking votes over national issues such as scrapping of Article 370 in the state’s election and ignoring the local issues.
The NCP’s candidate selection has been better than Congress and it could help the party win some seats.
In case of the Congress, the party has asked its leaders to concentrate on local level in their districts to retain the seats. Issues such as PMC Bank, too, have caused some damage to the ruling combine.
Another factor that is worrying the ruling parties is rebellion in their ranks. More than 40 rebels are in the fray and 25-30 of them could damage the prospects of BJP or Sena candidates.
Analysts say the Opposition has put up a fight, but it will have limited impact.
“It is true that the contest looked one-sided in the beginning. In the Lok Sabha, the alliance candidates were leading in the 227 Assembly segments. That doesn’t seem to be the case now,” said political analyst Abhay Deshpande. He said the Opposition would have done better had they prepared well.
“The NCP did a better job, but the Congress has not done that well. Had they done it, the Opposition would have probably been in the game to win the elections. It looked like the Congress had given up,” he said.
“The Opposition has not been able to use the ground situation to its advantage. The rebels would have created trouble for the ruling parties, but the Opposition did not create an impression of a strong alterative take advantage of the situation,” said Dinkar Mane, Aurangabad-based analyst and head of department of journalism, Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University.
BJP strategists say the situation improved following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rallies across the state.
They also opine that India’s action against terrorist camps in Pak-occupied Kashmir that was disclosed on Sunday would help the nationalism narrative of the party.