Elections

Triple Engine Mahayuti Alliance Fails To Jumpstart In Maharashtra Lok Sabha

If the Lok Sabha elections were a do-or-die battle, in the upcoming assembly elections the BJP might just have to start from scratch all over again if it wants to retain the elusive chair of power in Maharashtra, with or without an alliance

Dinesh Parab/Outlook
A deserted Maharashtra BJP office at Nariman Point, Mumbai on counting day on Tuesday. Photo: Dinesh Parab/Outlook
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A visibly sulking Devendra Fadnavis, put up a brave face, as he arrived at the packed media hall for the press interaction, a full 26 hours later than originally planned. Anticipating a landslide victory in Maharashtra, the Bhartiya Janata Party had organised a Mahajallosh at its Nariman Point office at 11.00 am on the day of election results with Fadnavis and senior leaders in attendance. As early trends of vote counting suggested BJP candidates trailing in several key constituencies, the interaction stood cancelled. The mega celebrations were muted with a handful of BJP workers dancing and eating laddoos for the customary photo-ops.

BJP’s Mission 45 in Maharashtra aimed at winning 45 out of the state’s 48 constituencies. But the final result delivered a surprising jolt to the Mahayuti alliance, which won 17 seats, far less than its earlier record of 41 and 43 seats (with a united Shiv Sena alliance) in the 2019 and 2014 Loksabha elections.

The alliance gained 43.60 per cent vote share in the elections as against 43.91 per cent of the Mahavikas Aghadi led by Congress, Shiv Sena Thackeray and Sharad Pawar NCP. The difference though miniscule at 0.31 per cent, led to a loss of at least 24 seats from Maharashtra, thus stopping the BJP from a full majority of 272 seats in the parliament.

On its own, the party won 9 out of 28 seats, only two more than Chief Minister Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena’s seven seats. Ajit Pawar’s NCP, the last ally to join the triple engine sarkar, managed a face-saving victory in a lone seat. The ruling alliance could not believe its subpar performance, winning far fewer seats than expected. “Our loss was due to miscalculation of the election arithmetic,” Fadnavis reasoned.

Like in Uttar Pradesh, BJP’s leadership in Maharashtra failed to gauge the damage from the constitution change narrative among the Dalit and OBC voters, opposition from the Muslim minority on Hindutva politics and anger from the Maratha community over reservation quota, poll observers said. Fadnavis faced hostility from the Maratha community to such an extent that he could not hold a single election rally or campaign from any district in Marathwada. He could not even accompany Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the rally in Ambajogai in Beed. The party took its biggest hit in Marathwada where the BJP lost all 4 seats.

Political analyst Abhay Deshpande believes the triple whammy of consolidation of Maratha, Muslim and Dalit votes caused a major loss to Mahayuti’s candidates in several seats. “The BJP was expecting reverse polarisation, in the form of support from the OBC votes as a reaction to the consolidation of Maratha votes. Instead, the three communities turned against it,” he said.

The Mahavikas alliance benefited largely from these votes besides gaining an advantage from the series of BJP’s miscalculations. Delays in ticket distribution, finalising seat sharing component and managing the demands of alliance partners, created fissures with the Mahayuti camp. “For the first time, the Congress-led opposition got many things right in the election campaign from the choice of candidates to their early nomination and sympathy from the voters towards Thackeray and Pawar factions and countering the 400 paar narrative effectively,” former journalist turned political observer Ganesh Kanate said.

Although Fadnavis was in charge of the Maharashtra elections, behind the curtain, the show was managed entirely under the direction of Home Minister Amit Shah in New Delhi. The BJP relied heavily on numerous internal surveys to decide on the candidates with little consideration to the recommendations from Shinde and Ajit Pawar's camp.

“Shinde and Pawar had to hold their ground and fight hard for tickets for their candidates in some places. In Vidarbha, the BJP gave tickets to candidates who were severely opposed by the local units,” Kanate added.

The BJP went ahead with Hindutva icon Navneet Rana’s nomination in Amravati and state minister Sudhir Mungantiwar in Chandrapur despite the opposition from local workers. The BJP lost both seats, Kanate added, because the party workers eventually ended up campaigning against the two candidates ensuring their defeat.

The Congress won both seats and re-established its once-waning influence in eastern Maharashtra. From a single seat in 2019, Lok Sabha Congress upped its tally to an impressive 13 seats, emerging as the single biggest party in Maharashtra. It’s allies Thackeray’s Sena and Pawar’s NCP received endorsement from its core voters. UBT Sena retained its traditional Marathi voters in Mumbai and Western Maharashtra winning nine seats and Pawar’s NCP achieved an impressive strike rate, winning eight out of the 10 seats it contested.

Mahavikas Aghadi’s surprising performance has caused heartburn in the Shinde and Ajit Pawar camp, with many MLAs sending feelers to their original party leaders for a return. Moving forward, a lot will depend on BJP’s course correction as it redraws several permutations and combinations. But the big question in Maharashtra is will the Mahayuti alliance partners survive the turbulence or leave the ship that appears to be headed in troubled waters.

Shinde and Pawar travelled to Delhi to celebrate NDA’s victory. While other NDA allies demanded special status for their States, economic and infrastructure incentives, additional funding and benefits for the marginally backward castes, Shinde and Pawar put forth no such demands except a cabinet berth and MoS seats in the Modi government.

Deshpande sees no reason for the alliance to come undone before the assembly elections, due in four months. The real test for Fadnavis, Shinde and Pawar will be the upcoming legislative elections to elect the 288 members of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly and the Council elections. Faring exceedingly better than Fadnavis and Ajit

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Pawar in the Lok Sabha elections, Shinde will be vying for a larger seat share in the Vidhan Sabha elections, he said. The assembly elections will be crucial for Ajit Pawar to reinstate his and his party’s lost credibility. His faction’s party workers are still reeling under the embarrassing loss of Pawar’s wife in the hometown of Baramati by a margin of 158,000 votes against Supriya Sule- Sharad Pawar’s daughter.

The BJP might be forced to make changes starting from the top keeping in mind the OBC and Maratha caste equations. Fadnavis who has offered his resignation as the deputy chief minister to focus on assembly elections, might be relieved and replaced with a more accepted non-Brahmin face. General secretary Pankaja Munde who lost to Maratha candidate Bajrang Sonawane in Beed, can no longer be projected as BJP’s OBC leader and will also need to be rehabilitated, Deshpande said.

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If the Lok Sabha elections were a do-or-die battle, in the upcoming assembly elections the BJP might just have to start from scratch all over again if it wants to retain the elusive chair of power in Maharashtra, with or without an alliance.

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