With just a week to go before assembly polls, the state is witnessing its most acrimonious, biggest battle for the ballot , the likes of which have not been seen in decades. In what seems to be a show of freestyle wrestling, friends for decades have become bitter enemies and the possibilities are yet to be exhausted.
Though there was always talk in both the major political alliances in the state to contest on their own respective, separate strengths but no one actually thought this would come to pass. Once the 25-year-old Shiv Sena-BJP alliance broke up in a fortnight over the issue of seat-sharing, sharing , the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) took minutes to announce a formal break-up.
The BJP, buoyed by its recent victory in the Lok Sabha elections and confidence that the Modi wave would help the party fight the state battle on its own, took a gamble and called off the alliance with the Shiv Sena, blaming Uddhav Thackeray’s ambition to become chief minister of the state. Initially, it avoided criticising the Sena and its leadership, to keep up the semblance of a good humoured fight. But once Modi began touring the state and drew big crowds in Marathwada as well as Vidarbha, the Sena realised that it was really in danger of being pushed behind in the race for power.
Once the Sena began attacking the BJP, going a step ahead by attacking Modi’s sparing so much time for a state assembly election, no-holds-barred wordy duels between the estranged political friends appear to have become par for the course. The blame game for the break-up of the alliance also continued with Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar saying that had Balasaheb been around, no such breakup would have occurred. Uddhav Thackeray claims that the BJP stabbed him in the back because while the Sena sought votes for a Modi Government in Delhi, Modi is now seeking votes only for the BJP, not for the saffron alliance.
With Uddhav Thackeray leading the charge against the BJP and Modi, the Sena’s original agenda of Maharashtra pride, concentrating on the Marathi-speaking population is back. What Maharashtra is experiencing is a change in its political horizon. The emergence of the BJP on the national scene as the single largest party with a mandate to rule the country has made its own regional support base wary of its strength. In Haryana as well as Maharashtra, the regional parties supporting the NDA have been left to fend for themselves. Most regional parties like the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the NCP virtually succumbed to the Modi wave in the recent Lok Sabha elections.
The Sena is recalling its concentrated fight for a united Maharashtra way back in the late 1950s, when the Samyukta Maharashtra agitation was launched and over 100 people had died in the police firing, after which Maharashtra was born. Uddhav has been raising the bogey of BJP plans to divide Maharashtra and carve out the separate state of Vidarbha.
Even Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena suffered heavily on account of the Modi wave, though Raj was supportive of the Gujarat pattern of development and had approved Modi as Prime Minister. He is also not far behind when it comes to attacking the BJP and Modi during his campaign, in keeping with the current political trend of a polarised polity, which can only spell doom for regional parties. Though both cousins attacked each other as they have been doing since the last few elections, they have found themselves on the same side when it comes to opposing the BJP.
Sharad Pawar is also playing his cards carefully, keeping in mind the the post-poll scenario, since no one can predict who will need whom in a fractured mandate. Almost all parties are certain that no single party, including the BJP and its four smaller partners, will get a majority on its own and an alliance will be required to form the government. The BJP differs and says that with Modi magic, it will be in a position to form a stable government and will take along all other supporting parties from the state as well as in Delhi.
The Congress has been wary of its poll ally for 15-years for many reasons, but is finally relieved that it is fighting on its own in all 288 constituencies, though in a rather hostile political climate. The Congress is blaming the NCP for the split in secular votes in the state due to the over-ambition of former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar. The party has decided to project the former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, who has cultivated a Mr Clean image. However, it is to be seen how successful the formula is where there are five-cornered fights in the state.
Pawar is maintaining his secular credentials, saying that it is the RSS which is in the driver’s seat and is asking voters whether they would like hand over the state to the BJP on a platter. He knows that the OBCs would not like to see a BJP-led government in the state, though many of them may have voted for the SS-BJP candidates in the Lok Sabha elections for Modi’s sake.
The NCP is upset with the Congress and especially with Prithviraj Chavan, who has been talking indirectly against large-scale corruption in the irrigation and power sector in the state, which were managed by an NCP minister for the last 15 years. He is indirectly targeting Ajit Pawar. In response, Ajit Pawar has questioned Prithviraj Chavan for his hasty decisions on urban development in the last 15 days of his government, wondering what promoted Chavan to step up the pace, something which he so assiduously avoided for all these years.
In the battle of ballots, it is easy to decide who should be defeated, but harder to ensure the victory of a particular candidate. It is more so when there are five-cornered fights in most constituencies. It is difficult to guess how voters in Maharashtra will decide but one thing is certain – the election will be keenly contested and whoever wins will do so with a slender margin. The reason being most stalwarts are opposed in their own fiefdoms.
Only those who know the nitty-gritties of power politics truly know that it is only after the results are out will the real power games begin. Much will depend on what kind of mandate is given by voters and which party wins how many seats. Number games, rather than straight ideological considerations, will decide who will rule Maharashtra for the next five years.
Prakash Bal Joshi
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