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Maharashtra politics in 2019: Get ready for a real party time

Candidate poaching, rebels, populist decisions, mud-slinging at rallies, the coming year will see it all

mumbai Updated: Dec 29, 2018 12:55 IST
Ketaki Ghoge
Ketaki Ghoge
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Maharashtra,politics
Farmers march towards Azad Maidan in Mumbai on November 22, 2018. (HT FILE)

It is time for T-20 match in politics in 2019 as main parties in Maharashtra get ready for the two polls that will decide who will run the government in the country and the state. The year will witness high-decibel political drama – candidate poaching, rebel legislators, populist decisions, vicious rallies – as battle lines blurred post 2014 polls get clearer and polls get closer.

The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) that seemed indecisive post 2014 about its choice of an ally has clearly picked Congress ahead of the poll year. While the Sena is still attacking the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), political compulsions may force the party to align with its former partner.

Maharashtra is most likely headed for an all-out fight between these two fronts in 2019. The alignment between these two sets of former allies and their smaller partners will be a crucial factor in the election year as poll results in the three Hindi heartland states earlier this month indicated the election battle is now split wide open.

POLITICAL ALIGNMENT

“The future rests in the hands of the alliances both pre- and post-polls. In Maharashtra, the Sena’s decision to align or not with the BJP can change the contours of the political battle. In the Lok Sabha, the Sena’s decision to not contest together will turn to be an advantage for UPA as Cong-NCP will increase their tally at the cost of Sena if not the BJP,” said political analyst Abhay Deshpande.

In 2014, the saffron allies together won 42 of the 48 Lok Sabha seats, while the Congress-NCP managed to win only six seats. In the bypolls held this year, the BJP has already lost one of its seats to the NCP.

In the Assembly polls too, the saffron allies stand to lose if they contest separately given that the Congress-NCP will be together. Despite the Modi wave, the two parties which contested the 2014 Assembly polls separately won 83 of the 288 seats in Maharashtra.

That’s the reason Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and chief minister Devendra Fadnavis have started backdoor talks on seat sharing for polls, said leaders from both the parties. While the BJP hopes to seal seat-sharing agreement with the Sena for both the polls, if required in the next month, a section of political observers and Sena leaders feel there is a chance that the parties may contest Assembly polls likely to be held in October separately given the complications of splitting seats for the 288 member house.

“The only good thing about having failed so miserably in 2014 polls is now we can only do better. While BJP wants to believe that the loss in the three states is due to state-related issues and anti-incumbency, it is also a verdict against the Centre and the PM. That sentiment is visible even in Maharashtra,” said a senior Congress leader and former minister.

Despite Congress’ optimism about improving its tally, there continues to be a question mark over whether it can pull off the grand alliance to avoid split in votes. For instance in Maharashtra, the party’s efforts to get smaller parties on board against the Sena-BJP is still a work in progress. It has not been able to get Dalit leaders on board despite a sentiment against the BJP in the community with Bahujan Bharip Mahasangh (BBM) Prakash Ambedkar playing a spoiler by putting up a third front. The role of Mayawati’s BSP is also not yet clear. If she puts up her candidates in the polls, they will again eat into Congress-NCP votes.

“There is no real shaping up of Third front despite Ambedkar’s efforts. There is an anti-BJP sentiment evident in a section of Dalits, farmers, tribals that may go to Congress-NCP though they have not really been successful in mobilising issues of these people,’’ said political analyst Surendra Jondhale.

AGRARIAN CRISIS

The last four years of the BJP government in the state have been marked by continued protests from farmers. The government’s loan waiver, its crop insurance scheme and market interventions have not been successful in overturning the anger against it over falling prices of agricultural produce. With the state facing drought this year, which will only aggravate in the summer of 2019, the rural distress continues to be the Fadnavis-led BJP’s big worry in a poll year.

“The urban-rural divide will be more stark in the coming general polls as the drought especially water scarcity in the state is severe and this will further accentuate the agrarian crisis. This is likely to go against the ruling government,” said Jondhale.

While the BJP has made inroads in the state’s urban mandate – as is clear in the local civic polls held in the last two years – the party could lose this advantage in the face of economy worry lines like increase in fuel prices, job losses or stagnancy, inflation. The Congress win in states like Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Rajasthan came not just from rural areas but also from urban constituencies where the BJP has traditionally performed better.

However, BJP’s state unit is not worried about losing steam in urban areas.

“The political reality in Maharashtra is very different from these three states. We have consistently won in all local polls especially in cities and towns. Our stress on infrastructure like new metro corridors, roads, townships has indirectly boosted the economy. It will definitely bring us electoral benefit. If at all, the Sena is our competitor in cities and not Congress or the NCP,” said a senior BJP leader.

ELECTION MACHINERY

Beyond electoral issues and political alignments , what counts in an election is a party’s organizational preparedness to build up a poll narrative, mobilise voters, micro manage election plans. If the Congress-NCP wants to dent BJP’s prospects, they should learn a few lessons from the enemy camp. “No one plans, rallies or canvasses for elections like the BJP is a lesson from 2014. In the past four years, they have also expanded their base, even if it is on the strength of power and money. Further, the RSS takes care of grass roots campaigning. We have a lot to catch up,” said a NCP leader.

First Published: Dec 29, 2018 01:45 IST