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Mumbai

Updated on: Friday, October 25, 2019, 08:25 AM IST

Maha Election 2019: Sena finds roar again as Sharad Pawar's defiance translates into votes

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Before the elections, the BJP-Sena alliance appeared to be flying in an air of hubris that their victory was imminent. On the other hand, the Congress and NCP appeared to have thrown in the towel, or so the media would’ve you believe.

Even the Congress rank-and-file appeared dejected and Rahul Gandhi barely turned up to campaign. On the other hand, Sharad Pawar – soldiered on like a veteran warhorse – his rain-soaked visage an icon of defiance in Satara.

And at the end of the day, Congress will be left wondering what could’ve been as the so-called ‘double engine of Modi-Fadnavis’ sputtered past the finish line.

As per the Election Commission, BJP secured 105 seats, Shiv Sena (56), Congress (44) and the Nationalist Congress Party (54).

Unlike the 2014 five-way fight between NCP, Cong, Sena, BJP and MNS; the voter consolidation appears to have helped INC and NCP. Pawar's party was the main gainer.

No spinning it for BJP

No matter how the BJP’s spinmeisters try to explain the result, both Modi and Shah will know this is a setback.

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Perhaps it’s the natural outcome of trying to nationalise a state election where people from different constituencies have different issues. But the brains behind the throne will be wondering how a state where BJP-Sena won 41 out of 48 Lok Sabha seats could deliver such a verdict.

Despite a high-fevered nationalist campaign bragging about repealing Article 370, promising a Bharat Ratna for Savarkar and showing Pakistan it’s place, BJP’s gamble appeared to have backfired.

So has the mega recruitment of opposition leaders from Cong-NCP at the expense of its own party’s leaders. It’s important to note that while leaders flipped parties, their cadre didn’t follow suit.

19 of the 34 Congress-NCP leaders who jumped ship have either lost or are trailing.

Two of the biggest upsets was for Udayanraje Bhosale, the NCP lawmaker who flipped to BJP.

The descendant of Shivaji was hammered by Sharad Pawar’s close aide Shriniwas Patil by a margin of 94,000 votes.This came despite the high-profile manner in which BJP inducted Bhosale with even Narendra Modi coming to Satara to campaign for him.

Sharad Pawar – defiance in the rain

However, the enduring image of this election was a picture of septuagenarian Sharad Pawar defiantly standing the rain. Pawar’s speech there – given as it poured cats and dogs – quickly went viral. Pawar apologised to the audience for picking Bhosale and ensured the defeat of a man who he had helped elect to Lok Sabha thrice.

It was a reminder to all and sundry that Maratha pride would pick Pawar over a descendent of Shivaji Maharaj.

The other big shock was Pankaja Munde who lost to her cousin and NCP candidate Dhananjay Munde who was also the leader of Opposition in the Maharashtra Legislative Council.

Pankaja Munde was seen as a leader with her head in the air and her defeat won’t be a surprise to seasoned followers of Maharashtrian politics. The Sena-BJP combine also faced a stunning reversal in Latur Rural, where Dhiraj Desmukh’s closest competitor was NOTA.

All in all, six Sena-BJP ministers also lost the election even though Devendra Fadnavis had promised that the NCP-Cong combine would be decimated, and that the Opposition would be made of VBA. The latter only ended up with 2 seats.

Big names do well

Big names did well with Aaditya Thackeray having a successful electoral debut. NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s nephew also won from Baramti as did Devendra Fadnavis from Nagpur South West.

Congress – a lost opportunity?

This election should be an important lesson to the Congress who could learn a trick or two about defiance from NCP supremo Sharad Pawar. While Pawar single-handedly campaigned for NCP across the state, very few senior Congress leaders joined the campaign trail. Rahul Gandhi only came down twice, others only held pressers in Mumbai.

One wonders if Congress could’ve added more seats to the kitty if they were willing to press BJP over the various points instead of just giving campaigning a miss. On the other hand, observers could also state that perhaps having Gandhis away from the campaign trail and letting local leaders get on with the show is a better blueprint for the Congress.

Sena sharpens its teeth

The Sena, which has been smarting at the suggestion that it’s a junior partner, will now also look to extract its pound of flesh. In a post-poll conference, an aggressive Uddhav said that the Sena had agreed to fight fewer seats to accommodate BJP and its allies but going forward it’d be a 50-50 partnership, stating that it will no longer listen to BJP’s ‘problems’.

Uddhav Thackeray didn’t elucidate what a 50-50 partnership would constitute, but if one were to hazard a guess it could either be important portfolios, the CM post for half the duration or a Deputy CM post for Aaditya Thackeray.

What is evident is that it won’t be like 2014 when Sena agreed to BJP’s scraps.

Meanwhile, Fadnavis put up a brave face, pointing out that JBP had improved its strike rate from 2014 where it fought 260 seats and had a comparable vote share.

He also blamed rebels for cutting votes and said several would come back to the fold, saying that about 15 of them were in touch.

However, none of that will decide from the fact that BJP-Sena lost ground, as they did in Nagpur where BJP lost half the seats.

All eyes will be on how BJP adjusts to the new reality, with an emboldened Sena and a more feisty opposition who will know that once again that in electoral politics absolutely nothing is set in stone and all it requires is some belief in one’s convictions.

Every party will now know that the BJP juggernaut can be halted. Of course, one should also consider that the BJP has done remarkably well if one were to consider the anti-incumbency and the fact that this was the first time it was the big ally in the state. However, it would do well to stop the hubris that has crept in amongst some of its members and remember that dominance doesn’t last very long in a multi-party democracy like India. Managing headlines, and managing voter expectations are two different things.

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Published on: Thursday, October 24, 2019, 08:16 PM IST
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