Fuzzy Logic: Water Scarcity, Reservation — Biggest Challenges For Maharashtra Coalition

Fuzzy Logic: Water Scarcity, Reservation — Biggest Challenges For Maharashtra Coalition

The picture in Maharashtra has now become very unpredictable with two factors suddenly coming into play — the overall rainfall situation in many parts of state and the hunger agitation launched by activist Manoj Jarange-Patil in Jalna district of the state

Rohit ChandavarkarUpdated: Wednesday, September 13, 2023, 10:16 PM IST
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Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde (M), State Deputy CMs Devendra Fadnavis(L) and Ajit Pawar(R) | ANI

What dominates the political discourse and the agenda for elections in an industrialised state like Maharashtra is an interesting question. Till just a few weeks ago nobody would have imagined that the issue of Maratha reservation would suddenly come to the forefront in the state in such a big way and coupled with that the state would also be perhaps staring at a very serious situation of water scarcity in many regions as a result of shortfall in overall rains. 

Over the past ten years or so the BJP has become an election-winning machine in most parts of the country, with the party strategising in a disciplined way about what issues to project and take up just some months ahead of the elections in many states. In the last Lok Sabha elections in 2019 BJP decided to go hard nationalist coupled with military pride of the nation. That worked well with the Balakot incident happening just a couple of months before the elections. A build-up in the national media and social media about how national security is crucial and important, done perhaps many months before the elections. It worked very well towards swaying voters towards the BJP. So a certain strategy works, and sometimes a certain strategy does not work. In Maharashtra the party has focused on the double-point narrative of projecting development and Hindutva together. Along with this the party worked on dividing the Opposition and creating a rift in the Opposition alliance.

The picture in Maharashtra has now become very unpredictable with two factors suddenly coming into play — the overall rainfall situation in many parts of the state and the hunger agitation launched by activist Manoj Jarange-Patil in Jalna district. It is now becoming clear that these two issues will dominate politics in Maharashtra in the months to come in the run-up to a very important election season for the BJP-led ruling alliance as well as the opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi or MVA alliance. 

Vidarbha is the only region in the state which has got satisfactory rainfall as of mid-September data available with the state government in Western Maharashtra; districts such as Ahmednagar and Sagli have received as low as 65% rainfall of the annual average till mid-September. In North Maharashtra the rainfall is about 73% of the average and in Marathwada region the average rainfall is about 65% of the average. What this means is that in the long run there will be inflation in foodgrain prices in the state and that will badly hurt the ruling coalition. In the short run the state will have to supply water to remote parts in rural areas through tankers by road. This will put an additional burden on the state coffers which are already stressed. The scale of the water scarcity issue will increase as time passes because post-monsoon, as the heat builds in October, the reservoirs will begin to dry up in rural areas. Whether the government is able to provide relief to remote areas and farmers in the Rabi crop season, is the crucial question. The severity of the situation will reach the peak in the upcoming summer season, which is the Lok Sabha poll season according to the original schedule. Insiders say that realising this problem, the state BJP leadership may also push for early Lok Sabha polls. 

Though the BJP denies it on record, it is generally alleged by Opposition parties and observers that the BJP has postponed the Municipal and District Council polls in the state since April 2022 till now because of the strategic operations that the party carried out of causing divisions in the Opposition MVA alliance. The BJP planned and realised firstly that the gestation period for this strategic operation to give results would be a little over a year and they also wanted to wait till any possible sympathy wave for leaders like Udhhav Thackeray would fade out. So the municipal polls in large cities including Mumbai, Pune and many other huge political pockets were postponed to 2023. Now the central leadership of the party feels that the entire machinery of the BJP should focus mainly on Lok Sabha polls of 2024 and the buzz in New Delhi is that these polls may get preponed to January or February of 2024. This puts additional strain on the state unit of the BJP in Maharashtra as this is a crucial state with 48 seats, and the semi-drought situation and renewed Maratha reservation agitation may cause damage to the ruling parties in the state.

In Maharashtra, like in some other states, the BJP’s political strategy has been to focus on a two-pronged agenda. Firstly, talk about all the development projects such as the Nagpur Mumbai Samruddhi expressway or Metro project completed in cities like Mumbai and Pune; and secondly, build a narrative about Hindutva by organising rallies or agitations by the “Sakal Hindu Samaj” members. In the past 15 days, suddenly both these points have been completely sidelined and the focus has shifted back to the issue of reservation for the Maratha community. The agitation launched by a Maratha activist in Jalna has galvanised various Maratha organisations and because the person sitting on fast, Manoj Jarange-Patil, has no political alignment, his agitation has garnered credibility and support from lakhs of people in the region. It’s going to be a challenge for the BJP to counter the campaign in social media launched by the Opposition MVA alliance to target the ruling BJP-led coalition over the subject. NCP President Sharad Pawar suggested in a media interaction that the government should consider raising the ceiling of reservation, presently capped at 50% to provide reservation for the Maratha community, but whether the government is able to legally do this without getting challenged in court is a matter of speculation, and there is no clarity on that. 

Rohit Chandavarkar is a senior journalist who has worked for 31 years with various leading newspaper brands and television channels in Mumbai and Pune

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