The multi-cornered contest for the Maharashtra legislative assembly has changed the political contour of the state which so far had been dominated by the Congress Party. The emergence of BJP as the single largest party after the elections has proved that Narendra Modi wave is still strong in the state.
The Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which was pushed to fourth position in the recent assembly elections, was, however, the first to make a political move within hours after the declaration of results. NCP general secretary Praful Patel announced that his party will extend full support to the BJP government from outside without putting any conditions so that the state will have a stable government despite a fractured mandate.
Pawar had been a bitter critic of the BJP for its RSS roots and even asked voters whether they would hand over the reins of Maharashtra to ‘chaddiwala’, a reference to RSS. Despite acrimonious attacks and counter attacks between the NCP and the BJP, Pawar’s offer of support came as a relief for the BJP which was going through a difficult time with Shiv Sena before their alliance broke ahead of the assembly elections. The Shiv Sena was peeved by NCP’s quick move to grab power. What prompted NCP to offer unconditional support to the BJP is not yet known, but a few points could be considered.
With several NCP leaders facing criminal charges of corruption, Pawar wanted his party to remain on the right side of the government so that no action is taken against these leaders. Pawar, who controls several cooperative institutions in the state, needs government support.
His market-oriented outlook on economy is in sync with the BJP so he will have no problem in supporting NDA government from outside in Delhi as well. Pawar is useful in keeping the more aggressive Sena at a distance and help Modi from outside in running the government in Mumbai.
Pawar is very unpredictable and his latest move has surprised his friends as well as foes.
However, former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan had inkling when he alleged a tacit understanding between Pawar and BJP after NCP broke away from Congress days before the assembly elections.
The NCP was thrashed in the elections as it could win only 41 of the 278 seats it contested while the Congress was one seat ahead of the NCP.
Defending his decision to support the BJP government in the state from outside without any condition, Pawar said this was the only possible solution to ensure a stable government in the state. He disclosed that Congress was trying to cobble up a government by supporting the Sena from outside and asking the NCP to join in the process. In the past, Congress had withdrawn its support to governments and there is no guarantee that the Sena-led government will complete its term.
Pawar’s latest move has upset the calculations of Shiv Sena which was hoping that the BJP, which had failed to reach the magic figure, would seek its support to form the government. It was even preparing to bargain for top positions in the future government. Now it seems the BJP need not seek the support of Sena to form a government. It may very well form the government and run it with NCP’s support.
Many observers believe that it is not a sudden move by Pawar, but a well thought-out step crafted over months. In fact, he was waiting for the BJP to break its alliance with the Shiv Sena. Once that was announced, he announced the NCP’s break-up with the Congress Party with which his party had ruled the state for the past 15 years.
He had been extending issue-based support to the Modi-led NDA government in Delhi and inviting the wrath from the Congress. Despite the dismal performance in the Lok Sabha elections by both the parties, the Congress never expected that the NCP would break away from the 15-year-old alliance.
Former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan later claimed that he had difficulty in running the government due to NCP ministers.
Until this election, although BJP and Sena made inroads into Marathwada and Vidarbha, they could never penetrate Western Maharashtra which has been dominated by the Congress and NCP through a network of cooperative institutions. However, this time, the BJP was able to win sizeable seats in Western Maharashtra. The election results show that voters have, by and large, ignored issues such as caste and job reservations for Marathas.
The Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) performed very badly in elections in Mumbai, Nasik and Pune. The party was able to win just one seat. The party lost heavily because Thackeray kept changing his strategies. His decision to put up candidates selectively against Sena in the Lok Sabha elections backfired. He took more time to finalise his blue print for the development of Maharashtra and failed to impress voters.
On the other hand , a relatively new entrant to Maharashtra politics, Hyderabad-based Majli-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen ( MIM) won two seats in the assembly, one in Aurangabad and one in Mumbai. The party has been campaigning against the Congress in minority-dominated areas saying that the party had failed to safeguard their interests.
MNS had won 13 seats in the 2009 assembly elections and played a decisive role in defeating many Sena candidates. Its performance was dismal in the Lok Sabha elections too as 13 contestants lost their deposits.
Other small players such as the Peasants and
Workers Party (PWP), which used to enjoy massive support from farmers and working class of Konkan and Marathwada regions, found themselves marginalised amid the rise of saffron parties in the state.
The NCP has elected Ajit Pawar as its group leader while the Congress will take its own time in choosing their leader. Several Congress ministers lost in the electoral battle. Aggressive Narayan Rane, who was made the campaign committee chief by the Congress, was among the losers.
MPCC president Manikrao Thackeray’s son too lost the elections. Taking moral responsibility for the poor show by the party, Manikrao has tendered his resignation.
The Shiv Sena will also have to elect a group leader since it will be playing the role as an opposition party unless it decides to join the government by accepting the terms set by BJP.
Prakash Bal Joshi
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