From Dominance To Debacle: Making Sense Of BJP’s Lok Sabha Seat Losses Across Maharashtra

Krishna Dange

Jun 06, 2024, 07:50 PM | Updated Jun 07, 2024, 12:10 PM IST

The BJP led NDA won 17 out of 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra. Of these BJP won 9 out of 28 seats it contested, down from 23 it had won in 2019.
The BJP led NDA won 17 out of 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra. Of these BJP won 9 out of 28 seats it contested, down from 23 it had won in 2019.
  • BJP’s Lok Sabha seat losses in Maharashtra mark a shift from dominance to decline due to changing voter sentiment and shortcomings in party's strategy.
  • In the results for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections announced on 4 June, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — the convenor of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) which has been steering the Union government for nearly a decade now, saw its wins dwindle from 303 in 2019 to 240 now. 

    The saffron party’s losses particularly in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal are attributed to have brought its overall tally down. In the case of Maharashtra, which sends 48 representatives to the Lok Sabha — second highest share state wise, this verdict has been nothing short of a Waterloo for the BJP. 

    The NDA, which comprises the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena and the Ajit Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) apart from the BJP, has won 17 out of 48 Lok Sabha seats in the state.

    Among all the parties in fray from either sides, BJP alone bled more than anyone with its seats share dropping from 23 in 2019 to just nine at the present.

    Notably, decline in NDA’s fortunes in Maharashtra is even more glaring considering that the alliance apart from being in power in the centre has also been ruling the state for more than two years now.

    The drop in BJP’s number of elected Lok Sabha representatives in the state especially has sent the party leadership in jitters as Maharashtra is expected to go for polls in a few months from now in October 2024.

    In order to understand the scale of damage BJP had to bear in Maharashtra in the Lok Sabha 2024 polls, these two examples are worth considering:

    1) BJP’s senior most leader from the state — Union Minister Nitin Gadkari- who also enjoys a pan-India appeal for his infrastructure improvement push, had announced a target of winning the Nagpur Lok Sabha seat this time with a margin of 5 lakh votes

    Far from the target, the two-time Member of Parliament (MP) managed to pull a victory with a reduced margin of 137,603 against that of 216,009 in 2019. This has now given rise to a narrative that defeating BJP in Nagpur is not entirely impossible.

    2) Of the 10 seats contested by INDI Alliance constituent NCP (Sharadchandra Pawar), the party was in direct contest with the BJP on nine seats. In all such seats barring Satara and Raver, NCP-SP candidates were able to defeat the BJP candidates. 

    Notably, two of such candidates from the saffron party who lost their seats to those from the NCP-SP were Union Ministers of State (MoS), namely — MoS for Tribal Affairs Bharti Pawar from Dindori (ST), and MoS for Panchayati Raj Kapil Patil from Bhiwandi.

    It was expected that NDA’s Lok Sabha seat share in Maharashtra would see a dent after the break-up of Shiv Sena and the NCP into two and the subsequent splintering of votes. However, none of the exit polls had predicted that BJP would be reduced to a single digit figure.

    Region-wise too, BJP’s strength has been cut short in every region of Maharashtra.

    For instance, in Vidarbha, which was considered to be a bastion of the saffron party and is home to the headquarters of its ideological parent — the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), BJP was reduced to just two seats (Akola and Nagpur) against six seats won by the party in 2019.

    The other seat from the region that came to the NDA's kitty was Buldhana which was retained by the Shinde-led Shiv Sena's sitting MP Prataprao Jadhav.

    A range of factors seem to have been responsible for the BJP’s and inter alia NDA’s downward slide in Maharashtra in the recently concluded polls. Some of those which are said to have played an influential role in shaping the poll verdict are worth considering here.

    1) Delay In Finalising Candidates

    Lack of unanimity between the BJP and its allies — the Shinde Sena and the Ajit Pawar led NCP over seat sharing first and candidate choice later, had delayed the declaration of NDA candidates in all five phases of polling. 

    This was particularly evident in the case of Mumbai South and Nashik where the candidature of Shinde Sena candidates Yamini Jadhav and Hemant Godse were announced on the last day of filing nominations for the respective seats. Eventually, both — Jadhav and Godse lost the seats to the opposing Uddhav Sena candidates.

    Such delay, which was seen across other seats as well, is said to have mellowed the campaigning spirit of all three NDA constituents.

    Moreover, in constituencies such as Mumbai South and Mumbai North East, BJP cadre was visibly displeased with those seats not having been allotted to their party.

    It is pertinent to note that although Shinde Sena’s Ravindra Waikar won on the latter, it was on a slender margin of 48 votes.

    2) Anti-Incumbency And Misjudging The Mood On Ground

    One of the biggest fall among the BJP’s candidates was that of Raosaheb Danve from Jalna. Danve, who started out as a sarpanch and rose through the ranks, was eyeing for a sixth term from the constituency. The BJP leader lost his seat to Congress's Kalyan Kale this time by a margin of 109,958 votes.

    Danve parachuting his son Santosh Danve in the state assembly as a legislator and not taking active interest in his constituency in the recent years had created a strong anti-incumbency against him.

    Similar was the case with Sanjaykaka Patil from Sangli, Kapil Patil from Bhiwandi and Ashok Netam from the Gadchiroli constituency, the latter being reserved for candidates from Scheduled Tribes (ST). All three netas were looking forward to a third term that was cut short by a defeat. 

    While Patil from Bhiwandi fell short by 66,121 votes, Patil from Sangli and Netam from Gachiroli lost against their opponents by a margin of more than a lakh votes.

    In constituencies like Dindori (ST) and Ahmednagar which were represented by different MPs from the BJP for three terms in a row, the party failed to retain the same owing to its blind faith on political scions. 

    BJP’s now defeated candidate Dr Bharti Pawar in Dindori is the daughter in law of NCP leader Arjun Pawar while its candidate from Ahmednagar — Sujay Vikhe Patil, hails from the politically influential as well as sugar baron Vikhe Patil dynasty.

    Both- Pawar as well as Vikhe Patil, were defeated by NCP SP’s first generation politicians — Bhaskar Bhagre in Dindori and Nilesh Lanke in Ahmednagar.

    The popularity of the Maratha agitation along with increasing anger against the rural elite is said to have accentuated the clamour in favour of non-dynast political faces. This was clearly discernable from the participation of a large number of youth in the rallies of NCP SP and INDI-Alliance candidates. Most of these youth were from marginal farming Maratha caste families.

    And where the BJP did not field dynasts, like how it asked a first-time Legislator Ram Satpute to contest from Solapur or Legislator and State Cabinet Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar who stood from Chandrapur — the party failed in assessing their winnability.

    Mungantiwar in particular had publicly expressed his reluctance to contest Lok Sabha elections.

    3) Vilification Of Devendra Fadnavis Through Popular Mediums

    Although the state unit of the BJP is headed by its president Chandrashekhar Bawankule, Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis as a member of the BJP’s Central Election Committee plays a key role in the running of the party in the state. 

    It will not be wrong to say that ever since 2014 when Fadnavis took oath as the first Chief Minister of Maharashtra from the BJP, he has been the party's face along with that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's in all elections in the state.

    However, rise and persistence of Fadnavis in politics in the face of all odds hasn’t gone down well with the leaders from the landed gentries, comprising prominently the Marathas who account for more than 30 per cent of the population. 

    Considering his Brahmin caste background in a state where the community is said to account for mere 3 per cent of the population accompanied by the anti-Brahmin sentiment prevalent since the colonial period, the undivided NCP of the past and NCP (SP) of the present along with the Uddhav Sena have consistently highlighted Fadnavis’s caste. 

    Undivided NCP under Sharad Pawar and NCP (SP) under him now have particularly imitated the Tamil Nadu-based Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s model of using television and social media to drive the anti-Brahmin caste rhetoric and characterising their opponents, specifically those from the BJP as Brahmin sympathisers. 

    For instance, NCP (SP)'s Amol Kolhe who won from the Shirur Lok Sabha seat for the second time had enacted the role of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s son Sambhaji in a popular television serial a few years back.

    This serial depicted an obese looking and allegedly deceitful Brahmin bureaucrat from the 17th century named Anaji Pant colluding with the opponents of the Maratha king and trying to harm the state's interests.

    An image of a man pointing a gun at Anaji Pant's head which keeps circulating among NCP-SP supporter groups on social media.
    An image of a man pointing a gun at Anaji Pant's head which keeps circulating among NCP-SP supporter groups on social media.

    Latching on to this, NCP (SP) as well as Shiv Sena leaders have constantly referred to Fadnavis as Anaji Pant in their public speeches inviting claps and shouts of support from large sections of young as well as middle-aged men.

    This was seen across INDI Alliance’s rallies in rural as well as semi urban areas. As a result, by capitalising on the anti-Brahmin sentiment through television and social media, the opposition has been successful in painting Fadnavis and inter alia BJP as evil. 

    4) Maratha Agitation And Limitations Of OBC Agglomeration

    Maratha caste activist Manoj Jarange-led agitation demanding categorisation of the socio-politically dominant Maratha caste as an Other Backward Class (OBC) group has particularly hurt the BJP and NDA in the Marathwada region.

    More so since the saffron party had extended its support to the OBC caste groups opposing the Maratha caste leader’s demands.

    In this region, which has been the epicentre of the protests and comprises eight Lok Sabha seats, NDA’s lone victory was in Aurangabad where Shinde Sena’s Sandipan Bhumre won in a quadrangular fight against candidates from All India Ittehadul Muslimeen, Shiv Sena (UBT) and Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi.

    However, this victory is said to have been due to Bhumre’s Maratha credentials and his opponent Uddhav Sena’s Chandrakant Khaire having been an OBC.

    The effects of the caste agitation were particularly prominent in the Beed Lok Sabha constituency where BJP’s OBC leader Pankaja Munde was pitted against the NCP-SP’s Maratha candidate Bajarang Sonawane.

    Senior BJP leaders had assumed that despite anti-BJP sentiment among Maratha voters there, Munde would win through coming together of the OBC and the SC votes. However, Munde lost the seat to Sonawane falling short of 6,553 votes.

    Maratha anger against the BJP was also seen in the Nanded Lok Sabha seat where BJP’s sitting MP Pratap Patil Chikhlikar, a Maratha lost the seat to Congress’s Vasantrao Chavan, also a Maratha. In fact, BJP candidate Patil's defeat was more surprising since the latter owing to his age and health issues was considered a weak candidate. Yet, the Maratha voters in the constituency seem to have put their weight behind the latter.

    5) Overconfidence

    It was observed during the campaigning that the advertisements played on Marathi television channels in support of the NDA candidates were less than those played in favour of the INDI Alliance candidates. BJP’s focus in particular was seen to have been on YouTube advertisements. 

    However, considering that the television and in particular the regional channels play an important role in the rural and semi-urban areas, it can be said that BJP failed in its campaigning strategy.

    Moreover, compared to the INDI-Alliance candidate’s pace of campaigning and aggressive rhetoric against the BJP-led NDA, the latter failed to match the same and convey its achievements.

    In fact, in constituencies located away from the urban clusters of Mumbai, Pune and Nashik, senior BJP leaders' speeches replete with triple talaq, article 370 and agenda for national security did not resonate with the larger chunk of the electorate. 

    In contrast, the INDI-Alliance constituents were successful in diverting people’s attention to local issues such as financial losses incurred by farmers due to onion export ban, no procurement of cotton from Vidarbha farmers this year and other developmental issues of local relevance. 

    The anti-BJP pitch was particularly heightened in constituencies with high SC votes. It is in such constituencies where the INDI Alliance candidates said that vote for BJP would mean an end to the policy of reservations in higher education and government jobs. 

    BJP and the NDA in particular failed to translate and aggressively convey to the masses how it has always supported the policy of reservations such as when OBC reservations were implemented in 1989. The saffron party cadre also seemed to have forgotten how the Modi-led NDA government had in fact strengthened the Prevention of Atrocities Act meant to protect Dalits and Adivasis from discrimination, through a constitutional amendment prior to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

    Staff Writer at Swarajya

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