Maharashtra Assembly Elections In Numbers: Region-Specific Issues, Rebels and Factionalism Undermine NDA Win

by Aashish Chandorkar - Oct 26, 2019 02:06 AM +05:30 IST
Maharashtra Assembly Elections In Numbers: Region-Specific Issues, Rebels and Factionalism Undermine NDA WinAn NDA rally in Maharashtra (Devendra Fadnavis/Facebook) 
  • The BJP campaigned top down – on PM Narendra Modi and CM Devendra Fadnavis’ work. The opposition campaigned bottom up – on hyper-local issues and day-to-day questions.

    The sugar belt – Western Maharashtra – voted in a big way for the NCP mainly, with Congress piggybacking on its partner.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won a comfortable majority in the Maharashtra assembly elections under the leadership of Chief Minister (CM) Devendra Fadnavis.

Unfortunately, this comprehensive win has fallen prey to the expectations which were built up by the BJP supporters, media commentary and exit polls alike. Else, this is the first time that a non-Congress government has been re-elected in the state.

Maharashtra has routinely voted very differently in the Lok Sabha and in the state elections. The BJP almost always punches above its cadre-weight in the Lok Sabha elections.

In fact, in 2014, the party hardly had candidates to field on all 288 seats in the state election. Things have changed dramatically since and now the BJP is the elder brother in the NDA alliance, with Shiv Sena assuming a geographically limiting mantle.

However, this election yet again brought forth the importance of local strongmen and clienteling politics – something the Congress and its ally, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) – have been adept at.

The BJP campaigned top down – on PM Narendra Modi and CM Devendra Fadnavis’ work. The opposition campaigned bottom up – on hyper-local issues and day-to-day questions.

In the end, the latter had some impact in a few areas. The rebels from the BJP as well as the Shiv Sena also complicated matters in several seats.

Vidarbha And North Maharashtra

One of the shocks for the BJP was its performance in Vidarbha and North Maharashtra. In 2014, the BJP had won 44 out of 64 seats in Vidarbha and 17 out of 42 in North Maharashtra. This time, BJP dropped to 30 and 13 in the two regions respectively.

This could have been a result of infighting, with prominent leaders from Vidarbha and North Maharashtra not campaigning effectively and even creating active dissidence against the BJP candidates.

In the Amravati Lok Sabha constituency, the BJP drew a blank. The NDA got one seat each from the assembly segments in Bhandara Gondia and Palghar. The BJP also underperformed in the Chandrapur, Ramtek and Nagpur Lok Sabha seats, especially in the rural areas.

The gains and losses more or less cancelled each other in other parts of the state but Vidarbha and North Maharashtra made the real difference to the BJP tally.

Mumbai And Western Maharashtra

The Shiv Sena has lately been working to revive its presence in many parts of the state. However, the efforts don’t seem to have made a big difference in this election. In fact, several BJP voters themselves may not have voted for the Sena, especially in Western Maharashtra.

In 2014, the Shiv Sena had won 13 seats in Western Maharashtra and 14 in Mumbai. This time, it went down to five seats in Western Maharashtra and managed to retain 14 in Mumbai, but didn’t gain any new voter base.

In fact, the BJP won 16 of its 17 Mumbai seats, while Sena dropped five seats out of the 19 it contested in its fortress.

Vote Share Decline

The above regional skew pretty much completely accounts for the NDA seat count decline from 2014, when the BJP and the Shiv Sena had contested separately. That this alliance has not been very effective in vote transfer is the surprise outcome of this election.

In 2014, contesting separately, the two parties had between them notched 52 per cent of the votes. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the vote share stayed relatively flat at 51 per cent.

In this assembly election, the combined vote share for the BJP and the Shiv Sena declined to about 42 per cent.

While a 5-6 per cent vote share decline from Lok Sabha to the state election is natural, especially in Maharashtra, the additional three per cent decline has cost the alliance a few seats.

The NDA Mumbai – Thane Dominance

The Mumbai – Thane belt has emerged as strongly saffron in the last five years. Starting with the 2014 Lok Sabha election, this area has repeatedly voted for the saffron parties in all elections – municipal to national.

In 2019 yet again, the NDA won 43 out of the 54 seats, adding 1 to the previous tally of 42. The only concern is for the Shiv Sena in the Mumbai city itself, where it seems to have peaked.

Mumbai North West was one of the only two Lok Sabha areas where NDA won all the six assembly seats – Aurangabad was the other.

The Congress went down one seat from five to four, with all its wins coming from minority-vote-base heavy seats. The same was true of the three seats NCP won in this region.

In fact, while many of the NCP turncoats who joined the BJP before the election lost out, this area was an exception. Ganesh Naik won comfortably in Airoli, Rahul Narvekar carried Colaba and Ganpat Gaikwad won Kalyan East.

The Rebel Headache And Heartburn

Both the NDA parties faced rebellion in at least three dozen seats, which eventually had a bearing on the end results. Despite appeals from Fadnavis and Sena Supremo Uddhav Thackeray, several rebels did not pull out of the electoral fray.

The NDA lost 24 seats to the UPA due to this factor.

There were eight rebels who actually won their seats. Most are expected to join the NDA fold again, as CM Fadnavis alluded to yesterday in his press conference after the results.

<b>Table 1: Eight rebel candidates won against NDA candidates.</b>
Table 1: Eight rebel candidates won against NDA candidates.

In 16 other seats, however, the NDA rebels drew more votes than the vote difference between the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the NDA official candidates. In some cases, the rebel candidate finished second!

<b>Table 2: Sixteen rebels drew more votes than the vote difference between UPA and NDA candidates from the same constituency.</b>
Table 2: Sixteen rebels drew more votes than the vote difference between UPA and NDA candidates from the same constituency.

The sugar belt – Western Maharashtra – voted in a big way for the NCP mainly, with Congress piggybacking on its partner. The UPA outscored NDA 39 to 25 in this region. Most of the NCP bigwigs contested in this area and they all won big.

It appears that the Maratha vote which shifted to the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha election went back in a big way to the NCP and the Congress this time.

Just before the election, the state government acted on court orders and started an Enforcement Directorate (ED) action against Sharad Pawar, the NCP supremo. That seems to have galvanized his vote bank, aided in no small measure by Pawar’s offer to appear at the ED office, which was not to be.

Another factor was the flash floods in Pune, Sangli and Kolhapur areas that impacted a large section of the population.

The local administration, as well as the state government’s response, attracted criticism and that seems to have reflected in some of the anger against the BJP government.

Having said that, BJP lost only four seats in this region on a net basis. The ‘incoming’ candidates Jaykumar Gore in Man and Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil in Shirdi retained their seats for the BJP.

Big Name Losses

As has been the case in the last few assembly elections in Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana – anti-incumbency seems much higher against the big names in the NDA.

Perhaps, the voters benchmark these names against Narendra Modi or Amit Shah or the CMs of their states and that leads to a perception of an expectation gap.

Rajkumar Badole (BJP) in Arjuni-Morgaon, Jaydutt Kshirsagar (Shiv Sena) in Beed, Suresh Halwankar (BJP) in Ichalkaranji, Arjun Khotkar (Shiv Sena) in Jalna, Prof Ram Shinde (BJP) in Karjat Jamkhed, Amal Mahadik (BJP) in Kolhapur South, Bala Bhegade (BJP) in Maval, Anil Bonde (Shiv Sena) in Morshi, Rohini Khadse (BJP) in Muktainagar, Pankaja Munde (BJP) in Parli, Vijay Shivtare (Shiv Sena) in Purandar, Vinod Ghosalkar (Shiv Sena) in Shrivardhan, Sudhir Parwe (BJP) in Umred, Vijay Auti (Shiv Sena) in Parner, and Vishwanath Mahadeshwar (Shiv Sena) in Vandre East were some such candidates.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis should be back at the helm in his second term. During the ticket distribution, he seems to have effected a generational change in several parts of the state.

It appears that the old guard had its say however in fanning rebellion or not fully backing the party candidates. Fadnavis will have another chance to continue to revamp the party and promote newer faces, more acceptable to the voters.

With the support of Independents, the Rashtriya Samaj Paksh and the Jan Surajya Shakti Party, the NDA tally should inch closer to 175. This should be comfortable enough for Fadnavis to run a smooth term.

Of course his biggest challenge, just like the first term, will continue to be Shiv Sena. Fadnavis conducted his politics deftly in the first term. The expectations from him remain the same for the next five years.

Aashish Chandorkar is Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of India to the World Trade Organization in Geneva. He took up this role in September 2021. He writes on public policy in his personal capacity.
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