Maharashtra’s political sphere saw a heightened level of caste polarisation in 2017 which was mainly fuelled by political parties facing various municipal and district council polls in the state. The state also saw a high level of farmer distress continuing in the year because of the impact of demonetisation in rural areas and the State government’s much publicised farm loan waiver scheme not getting implemented properly because of endless communication problems between government agencies and banks.
The Maratha community gathering in large numbers to take out big rallies in many cities of the state, which originally started in the previous year, continued in 2017. The demand for reservation in government jobs and education kept the rallies going from city to city. Very large rallies were seen in cities like Kolhapur and state capital Mumbai where over a million people gathered.
The Maratha community gathering and organising such a large show of strength also resulted in the other backward classes (OBC) and the Dalit community getting into some mobilisation of their own. This resulted in the social atmosphere getting polarised on caste lines especially ahead of the 2017 municipal polls in Mumbai, Pune, Navi Mumbai, Nashik and many other cities of Maharashtra. The BJP, by and large, emerged as the winner in these polls capturing power in Pune and Nashik decisively while getting a decent lead in Mumbai municipal polls while the NCP took a substantial lead in the district councils.
BJP’s alliance partner Shiv Sena kept targeting its partner in the public sphere in Mumbai and Delhi. The Sena left no opportunity to criticise the BJP and give indications that at any point, it may leave the alliance partner alone in the state assembly but just like in the earlier years in 2017 too, Sena’s threat to BJP did not actually materialise till the end of the year!
The BJP trying to make inroads in the rural areas of western Maharashtra and trying to capture some of the sugar cooperatives was a new development seen this year. BJP’s ally and leader of the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana Raju Shetti chose to part ways with the BJP led National Democratic Alliance ( NDA ) while Konkan heavyweight Narayan Rane quit the Congress Party and moved closer to the BJP by joining the NDA this year. Rane’s attempt to be part of the state cabinet was not successful till the end of the year.
Several allegations of scams against some of the cabinet ministers of the BJP-Shiv Sena government surfaced during this year creating an impression that the much publicised campaign of the BJP offering a corruption-free regime was perhaps suffering a credibility crisis.
The campaign taken up by Maharashtra Navanirman Sena (MNS) Chief Raj Thackeray against the hawkers in Mumbai was another landmark development which signified Thackeray’s attempt to revive his political party. Many alleged that this was done with a hidden support from the ruling BJP which now wants to use Raj against their disgruntled alliance partner Shiv Sena.
Economic distress in rural areas of Maharashtra continued in 2017 despite a reasonably good monsoon mainly because of the impact of last year’s demonetisation and the introduction of GST regime which small traders had problems with. This resulted in some anti-establishment spirit which Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) was quick to capture. The NCP launched many rallies and campaigns in rural Maharashtra which indicated that the party is now sensing that the honeymoon period for Devendra Fadnavis government may be now over.
2018 will be seen as the year that will lead to the big election season of 2019 in Maharashtra. The state will witness Lok Sabha polls in May 2019 and then assembly polls in October 2019. Many feel that the BJP will get into an election campaign mode as the new year ushers in. It remains to be seen if they are able to convince people about their achievements and get the same kind of support they did in 2014 poll season.