Muscular nationalism propagated by Narendra Modi may have led to the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance sweeping the Lok Sabha poll, however, other facts like the emergence of new political equations will play a decisive role in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly election which is due in October.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis did not opt for simultaneous Assembly elections along with the Lok Sabha poll - an idea propagated by Modi and supported by the Election Commission. Political pundits then said perhaps, Fadnavis was not 100% sure of the BJP winning the Lok Sabha poll as its bickering ally Shiv Sena took its own sweet time to strike the deal. Issues like half of the State facing acute drought, demonetisation and job losses could play on the voters’ minds. In hindsight, the CM might be regretting.
But the flipside for Fadnavis is that he is now in a much better position to gauge the impact of vote cutters such as the new-born Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) led by Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Dr BR Ambedkar, and the past master Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) firebrand speaker Raj Thackeray.
To put it in tennis lingo, it is advantage Fadnavis vis-a-vis Uddhav Thackeray as the latter has lost his bargaining power. The Sena leader, who fought for a larger number of seats than the BJP for the Lok Sabha poll and gunned for the next Chief Minister’s post is not in any position to even put his foot down this time around.
On the contrary, if he persists with his stubbornness, the BJP can go all alone riding on the Modi wave. Fadnavis has four months to tackle the agrarian crisis and convince the Centre to begin to execute PM’s dreams of doubling the farmers’ income. Increased focus on infrastructure and real estate could also lead to employment generation.
Let’s look at the other alliances. VBA, formed by Prakash in association with Hyderabad-based Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, has expectedly polarised the Muslim-Dalit votes, which are considered to be the traditional base of the Congress-NCP combine.
VBA garnered more votes than the victory margins of the BJP-Sena alliance candidates and proved to be an effective vote cutter against Congress State unit chief and former Chief Minister Ashok Chavan and another former CM and ex-union Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, both of whom had dubbed the Aghadi as BJP’s Team-B. Chavan, for instance, lost by over 42,000 votes while VBA secured 1.6 lakh votes.
These gains will definitely bolster the Ambedkar-Owaisi combine’s confidence and boost their bargaining power as well, in case Congress-NCP seek a new front against the saffron wave.
Raj Thackeray, despite being a crowd puller, could not cut ice with the voters. Much like some Bollywood dialogues, Raj’s jibe ‘Video Laav Re’ playing Modi’s speech clips to ridicule the PM may have caught the imagination of Twitterati, but miserably failed to capture the minds of the voters.
MNS was seen as a vote cutting engine for the NCP. In fact, NCP did try to convince Congress to strike a deal with the MNS. But the Congress did not want to antagonise north Indian voters in Mumbai and elsewhere and thus cold-shouldered the NCP move.
Analysts say Raj Thackeray has lost his bargaining power with the NCP. At best, he could be a typical Gully Boy, waiting for Apna Time Ayega, in elections to civic bodies. But the MNS performance in Nashik, Kalyan, Thane will also be put to test in these cities.
The country’s oldest party, the Indian National Congress has been relegated to just a single seat. This puts NCP in a slightly better position as compared to the Congress. Both of them will have to focus not only on rejuvenating themselves but also on the VBA.
They cannot afford to look for only secular votes which have begun to realign with new political equations while working on much more burning issues like roti-kapda-makaan-naukri.
(BN Kumar is Mumbai-based media professional).