Split Personality: How Maharashtra Shaped The Nation's Electoral Mood

Alliances made and broken, and new equations formed in the last five years left Maharashtra voters confused. But the recent result shows they have voted maturely

Photo: Getty Images
Feeling the Heat: Eknath Shinde, PM Narendra Modi and Devendra Fadnavis at a rally in Mumbai during the elections Photo: Getty Images

After the results of the 18th Lok Sabha elections were declared on June 4, social media was abuzz with users from Maharashtra reminiscing about the old Shahir Sable song “Jai Jai Maharashtra Majha.” Posts celebrating the state’s pivotal role in shaping the nation’s electoral mood flooded platforms, shared by people across geographical boundaries. This nostalgic nod to Maharashtra’s cultural heritage highlighted the state’s significant influence in the recent elections.

Maharashtra, a microcosm of broader political currents sweeping India, offers valuable insights into the evolving dynamics of voter sentiment and allegiance. As the second-most populous state with 48 Lok Sabha seats, its substantial parliamentary representation, economic clout, diverse demographic profile, and strategic political significance make it a bellwether for national trends. The state’s recent political upheavals and the formidable performance of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA)—an alliance once deemed unnatural and impractical—against the BJP-led Mahayuti, illustrate the changing tide in Indian politics.

One of the most significant underlying reasons behind the recent results is the political drama that unfolded in the state over the last five years with alliances made and broken every single day and new equations created to claim a stake to power, leaving the voters confused and angry.

A series of dramatic events unfolded after the 2019 Assembly elections resulting in the formation of the MVA—an alliance of the Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Shiv Sena, which formed the government with Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray as the Chief Minister. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdowns, the government was busy in the day-to-day management of the crisis. While the government did manage to keep the situation in Maharashtra under control, it was constantly engaged in a tug of war with the BJP-led central government and the Opposition mainly over the issue of fund allocation to the state in these times of crisis.

Even after the lockdowns were lifted, some of the key leaders of the alliance were embroiled in targeted investigations led by central agencies like the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The mounting pressure of such investigations led many in the Shiv Sena and the NCP to jump to the BJP in the hope of getting a safe haven in exchange for their loyalties to their parties and leadership.

Ultimately, this culminated in two major vertical splits in the Shiv Sena within a year’s time, with Sena leader Eknath Shinde and NCP leader Ajit Pawar joining hands with the BJP. The BJP and the Shiv Sena under Shinde formed a government in the state in 2022 and were later joined by a section of NCP leaders under the leadership of Pawar in 2023.

In this entire turn of events, all parties remained busy in internal bickering while issues of the common people, ranging from unemployment to the severe agrarian crisis resulting from climate change and lacunae in policy to address it, remained unattended, causing discontent among the voters. The rejection of the BJP comes from the anger that locals in many constituencies have against the party for engineering this political drama in the state.

Failure to Consolidate the Electorate

The year was 2019. Ahead of the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections in Maharashtra, senior BJP leader and then Chief Minister of the state Devendra Fadnavis told the media that the BJP is not desperate for an alliance with the Shiv Sena. Riding on the popularity of the party after sweeping the 2014 polls, he claimed that the party could independently claim power in the upcoming polls to the Lok Sabha and state assembly.

Five years later, even after having power at the Centre and even after orchestrating alliances by causing splits in regional parties such as the Shiv Sena and the NCP, the party’s overall vote tally in the recently declared results to the Lok Sabha has seen a massive fall. After its disagreements with the Shiv Sena after the 2019 Assembly elections and the subsequent breaking of the saffron alliance, the BJP made several attempts to stake a claim to power in the state. With its growing clout at the Centre, and the popularity of Modi’s politics in the state, it was expected that the party would expand itself across the length and breadth of the state through its local cadre.

However, instead of establishing itself independently, it only relied on the politics of division. By orchestrating a split between the Shiv Sena and the NCP, the BJP made desperate attempts to put forward a winning coalition in these elections. This underlined that despite Fadnavis’s claims in 2019 and the party’s confidence that it is others who needed its support, the BJP actually cannot stand independently in Maharashtra without the support of local players such as Shiv Sena.

Maratha and Marathi Voters

The Marathi and Maratha voters played a pivotal role in the success of the MVA in Maharashtra. The coalition—comprising the Congress, NCP, and Shiv Sena (Uddhav Thackeray faction)—managed to harness the regional and cultural sentiments of these crucial voter blocs effectively.

The splits engineered by the BJP within the Shiv Sena and the NCP created a wave of sympathy for the Thackeray and Pawar families.

The Shiv Sena, in particular, has always championed the cause of the Marathi manoos and Marathi pride, and under Thackeray’s leadership, it reinforced its commitment to protecting and promoting Marathi culture and language. This emphasis on regional identity helped consolidate support among Marathi-speaking voters who felt increasingly marginalised under the BJP’s ‘Gujarat appeasement’.

The Opposition’s criticism of the BJP for diverting investments and projects away from Maharashtra (some examples being Vedanta-Foxconn and Tata Airbus projects) worked in building an anti-BJP narrative among Marathi voters. Even in Mumbai, a similar consolidation was seen in almost all constituencies except for Mumbai-North, which has a huge proportion of Gujarati voters, who continue to back the Modi-led NDA. Similarly, the Maratha reservation issue has been a significant political concern in Maharashtra. The Maratha community, which forms a substantial part of the state’s population, has been agitating for reservations in education and employment. The MVA government, during its tenure, showed a commitment to addressing these demands, including pushing for legal and administrative measures to secure reservations for the Maratha community.


When the Mahayuti came to power in the state, it assured the community of a 10 per cent quota but the delay in implementing it was seen as a strategic move by the BJP-led alliance to keep its OBC voters happy, who would have possibly been upset if the Marathas were granted the reservation. This created an anti-BJP sentiment among Marathas in Maharashtra led by leader Manoj Jarange Patil.

The Sympathy Factor

The splits engineered by the BJP within the Shiv Sena and the NCP created a wave of sympathy for the Thackeray and Pawar families who have dominated the state’s politics for many years. Many voters perceived these splits as unjust and politically motivated attacks on their regional leaders. This sympathy was particularly strong in the rural heartland and among traditional Shiv Sena and NCP supporters, who rallied behind the MVA as a form of resistance against what they saw as external interference.


The narrative of gaddars (traitors) helped create a powerful campaign against those who switched sides for opportunistic gains. Supriya Sule’s victory against Ajit Pawar’s wife Sunetra in Baramati by a whopping margin of 1.58 lakh votes underlines this sentiment.

Congress Fights Back

The elections marked a remarkable turnaround for the Congress party, which had been struggling to regain its foothold in Indian politics after significant defeats in 2014 and 2019. The Congress, often seen as the underdog in recent electoral battles, especially in Maharashtra, managed to improve its performance, capitalising on strategic alliances, effective campaigning, and a resonant anti-incumbency wave.


In Maharashtra alone, the Congress, as part of the MVA alliance, contributed to the coalition’s impressive seat tally, winning 13 of the 30 seats with a strike rate of 76.47 per cent. This was a huge jump from 2019, when it managed to get only one seat in the state. The party also significantly revamped its campaign strategy, focusing on grassroots mobilisation, targeted messaging, and leveraging social media. Despite not having too many big faces in the state, it relied on local-level leadership which significantly mobilised workers and the cadre on the ground.


The 2024 Lok Sabha elections in Maharashtra presented unique alliances of ideologically diverse parties and players. How these alliances pan out in the next few months will most likely determine the outcomes of the upcoming elections to the legislative assembly and local bodies in the state.

With the huge success that it has got, the MVA now has to retain its popularity and stick together, keeping aside its individual ambitions at times if it has to give a tough fight to the BJP-led Mahayuti. The internal dynamic within the Mahayuti is also likely to play out interestingly in the coming months. Unlike the perception that Shinde’s career would depend on the BJP’s whims and fancies, the BJP now needs Shinde and his Sena more than before if we see the electoral numbers. Similarly, Ajit Pawar, with his poor performance, is likely to lose his clout in the alliance. It will be interesting to see if the leaders who defected with Shinde and Pawar stick around with the alliance or switch sides again, seeing the MVA’s growing prospects and popularity. Whatever the electorate’s mandate in these elections, it is clear that the voter in Maharashtra makes mature choices.


(Views expressed are personal)

Sanjay Patil is a Mumbai-based researcher. His doctoral work looks at the journey of the Shiv Sena between 1985 and 2022 and he works on Maharashtra politics, informality and elections.

(This appeared in the print as 'Split Personality')