Will Modi magic swing the state?

Hectic campaigning in Maharashtra, replete with attacks and counter-attacks among friends and foes has ended, leaving it for voters to decide whether the Narendra Modi magic will prove decisive in Maharashtra assembly polls.

It is now almost clear that it was a well-thought out decision by the BJP floor managers to go it alone, riding on the Modi wave which had swept the Lok Sabha elections, to win Maharashtra on its own strength. This enraged its long-time ally, the Shiv Sena which went hammer and tongs not only against the BJP, but also targeted Modi. In fact, Modi became the target of the Sena; the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, the Congress as well as the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party.

 Apart from various other issues and the import of some key figures from the Congress as well as the NCP to the BJP camp in order to reach the target, the main factor for the Modi-led BJP upsurge in the state is the fact that OBCs have been pushing to seize power here. The Marathas have been the dominating caste in the state, ruling the state for the last six decades by aligning with the Congress and using the cooperative structure which controls the rural economy. The BJP, as part of its poll strategy, has aligning with anti-Congress forces, like Raju Shetti and has also taken care of the social engineering factor by continuing its alliance with the RPI leader Ramdas Athawale and Mahadev Jankar, who represents the sizeable Dhangar caste.

Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray spent time explaining that his party was not responsible for break-up of the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance and then went on to target the BJP and Modi for ignoring regional forces like itself. Once the BJP won the parliamentary elections on its own, its state leaders began their campaign immediately to emphasise the point that it was no longer content with its Number Two position in the state, based on old equations.

 Since the alliances broke at the eleventh hour, no party was ready to contest all 288 seats on their own – inviting willing and able candidates from other parties and the BJP is no exception. Actually, the UP pattern proved useful to the party, which had given tickets to late entrants once Modi was selected as the prime ministerial candidate. The campaign in Maharashtra has Modi-Shah stamped all over it and is considered the biggest political gamble. These elections are also important for Modi in view of the NDA minority in the Rajya Sabha and if it could improve its position in the state assemblies, it will help improve its RS tally.

The Congress campaign, on the contrary, remains low-key, where the Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi addressed a few rallies, but failed to derail the BJP campaign, though a half-hearted effort was made by the party to question whether the PM should spend so much time on a state assembly election while there were tensions on the border. Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who is contesting from Karad, was pinned down in his own constituency as sitting MLA, where a senior Congress leader, Vilaskaka Patil, is giving him a tough time.

The NCP head honcho, Sharad Pawar has kept a low profile, observing changing trends during the campaign and keeping his options open. This party has survived for last 15 years mainly because of the fact that it was in power in the state, as well as in Delhi. So it may work out an understanding sufficient to ensure its stay on the right side of power in Delhi.

The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s Raj Thackeray also campaigned heavily during the run-up to the elections, explaining his ideas for the future of Maharashtra and how he wants to shape it for the new generation. However, despite the good crowds he drew, his party lacks the mechanism and organisational support to convert it into votes.

The campaign did not see much discussion about governance by the Congress-NCP, nor the many scams which erupted from time to time in the last five years. It suited the Congress as well as the NCP to talk about possibility of the division of Maharashtra by carving out the separate state of Vidarbha were the BJP to come to power in the state.

The five-cornered contest has become a triangular contest in most constituencies, as voters seem to have weeded out potentially weak candidates. Much will depend on which party wins how many seats and the new political equations that will be made to determine who will rule the most industrious state in the country.

 Prakash Bal Joshi

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