Cracks In Maharashtra's Coalition Ahead Of Assembly Polls

Maharashtra’s political landscape is at a churn as six mainstream parties gear for an all-out attack ahead of the state assembly elections.

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Supporters of NCP, Shiv Sena and BJP during the rally of Yamini Jadhav, Shiv Sena candidate for South Mumbai. Photo: Getty Images

Two’s company, three’s a crowd. The adage could not be truer than in the context of Maharashtra’s ruling Mahayuti coalition.

After its dismal performance in the Lok Sabha elections – where all three parties won seats in single digits – the BJP-led alliance governing the state of Maharashtra has found itself in a political flux that might result in cracks within its rocky coalition.

The BJP’s alliances in quick succession with Eknath Shinde and Ajit Pawar leaders of the breakaway factions of Shiv Sena and Nationalist Congress Party have not gone down well in Maharashtra’s conservative hinterland. The three parties: BJP (9), Shiv Sena (7) and the NCP (1), together managed to gain 17 seats out of the 48 constituencies, a major slide down from the 2019 performance.

Mahayuti’s losses turned into gains for the Mahavikas Aghadi – the alliance of Congress (13), Shiv Sena-Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray (9) and NCP-Sharad Pawar (8) – with 30 seats together.

With the legislative elections less than 90 days away, the alliance partners have begun to probe the question of whether to stay or leave the coalition, to improve their chances to form the government and win power to rule Maharashtra. The six parties are vying to gain a maximum of 288 seats in the legislative assembly alongside the Vanchit Bahujan Party and independents.

The MVA leaders have asserted to keep the alliance intact and jointly fight the assembly elections. However, it is the Mahayuti alliance where chatter and accusations of blame game have begun to fly.

The BJP hit major losses in Marathwada and Western Maharashtra, as its resolve on the Maratha reservation agitation and minimum price on agricultural produce backfired. Devendra Fadnavis, deputy chief minister and home minister was singled out for miscalculating the Maratha agitation, leading to animosity among the Marathas. The party didn’t win a single seat in any of the region’s eight districts.

Fadnavis took responsibility for the below-par performance and offered resignation from the government.

However, after leaders of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh wagged fingers at BJP’s unnatural alliance with NCP, Pawar has come under the spotlight. RSS member Ratan Sharda in an article in Sangh aligned Organiser magazine, said Pawar-led NCP’s entry into the alliance has “reduced the brand value of BJP and made it just another party without any difference.” RSS’s chiding has several BJP leaders instead backing Fadnavis and calling for dropping Pawar. Many are in favour of keeping the alliance to its original state with natural ally Shiv Sena.

While Pawar assured that he was staying back in the alliance, the public rants have enraged NCP leaders who are calling to break away from the BJP alliance. The NCP won its sole seat from Konkan of the four seats it contested. Party supporters are still reeling under the embarrassing loss in the family’s hometown Baramati and believe Pawar’s alliance with the BJP was a major factor for NCP losing ground in key constituencies. “BJP’s Kamal does not work in Baramati, people here are fiercely against the BJP. We accepted the alliance because Dada was coming back in power at the post of deputy chief minister which was crucial for funds and the state’s development,” said an NCP worker about the mood in the party. “Now, we feel people did not accept us because of BJP, which cost us defeat.”

Several party workers including senior leader Chhagan Bhujbal are of the opinion that if Pawar stays with the alliance, the NCP should get up to 90 seats contest in the assembly elections. The party is confident of retaining winning seats of 42 NCP MLAs and has significant support in 40 others, workers said. The Assembly elections will be existential for NCP’s Pawar who wishes to see himself in power as Maharashtra’s CM.

Leaders of the Shiv Sena have been fuming against the BJP for over-relying on the oracle of the party’s famed internal surveys and cutting its seat share in prime constituencies. Shinde had to compromise and face major embarrassment in the stronghold seats by giving tickets to BJP candidates.

Shinde Sena’s surprise performance clinching seven out of thirteen seats it contested has restored faith in the party workers that its traditional core voter has backed its support to the Mahayuti alliance. Shinde has not only won the public and party members approval but also raised his stake in the bargaining game.

Ramdas Kadam, senior Sena leader urged Shinde at the party’s foundation day event to stay resolute in the demand for tickets with the BJP. For the assembly elections, the Shiv Sena should get at least 100 seats, he said, guaranteeing victory in 90 seats.

At the NDA’s victory celebration in Delhi, Shinde won accolades from PM Modi who appears to have taken a liking towards the rebellious leader. Shinde is a former rickshaw driver turned Maharashtra CM, similar to chaiwalla Modi becoming Gujarat’s CM.

The BJP and Shiv Sena are desperate to retain power in Maharashtra at all costs and be the guards of the double-engine sarkar. The BJP will have the strenuous task of ticket distribution and seat sharing to keep the coalition intact.