BJP-Sena pitting rebel candidates, VBA hampering Congress-NCP chances in 23 seats: Maharashtra battle was a close one, but Opposition failed to sway voters
The Opposition in Maharashtra failed to convince voters that the contest is closer than it appears, largely because of its own limitations, and partly because of pliable regional media. When BJP started importing Opposition leaders ahead of the elections, not many asked why they needed to engineer these defections in the first place if the outcome was a forgone conclusion.
Shiv Sena-BJP alliance put up rebel candidates against each other, which, by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis' own admission, led to the BJP-Shiv Sena's underwhelming performance
The Opposition failed to convince voters that the contest is closer than it appears, largely because of its own limitations, and partly because of pliable regional media
When BJP started importing Opposition leaders ahead of the elections, not many asked why they needed to engineer these defections in the first place if the outcome was a forgone conclusion
Numbers indicate that VBA directly hampered Opposition's chances in 23 seats and AIMIM in two seats, however, it would do well for the Congress-NCP to instrospect rather than indulge in blame-game
Go to the Election Commission's website. Click on the constituency-wise breakup. Examine Yavatmal. The first two columns show that Madan Yerawar of BJP, who polled just over 80,000 votes, managed to sneak out a narrow win over Congress' Anil Mangulkar. Margin: 2,253 votes.
That, though, is only half the story. Scroll down to the 13th column. Santosh Dhawale, an 'Independent' candidate, has managed to garner over 38,000 votes.
Dhawale was a rebel candidate, said to be propelled by Shiv Sena to undercut Yerawar's chances. In 2014, Dhawale had contested the Assembly election in the state on Shiv Sena's ticket when BJP and Shiv Sena fought the elections independently. With the alliance being forged ahead of the 2019 elections, Dhawale ended up losing out to Yerawar. Shiv Sena did what it could to make it easy for the Congress candidate. But he fell short.
In spite of an unexpectedly respectful performance in the Maharashtra Assembly Elections 2019, the Opposition alliance of Congress-NCP may look back at it as a lost opportunity to pull off something even bigger.
Both BJP and Shiv Sena had to make certain compromises during the seat sharing and ticket distribution, which left both parties unhappy. As a result, the ruling alliance put up rebel candidates against each other, which, by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis' own admission, led to the BJP-Shiv Sena's underwhelming performance. The number of rebel candidates across Maharashtra is estimated between 55 and 60.
Yet, there are constituencies like Yavatmal where the official candidate has managed to win in spite of the rebel, or, in some cases, the rebel candidate has won. The spike in the "others" column is largely due to these instances. Perhaps the Opposition would have had a chance to stretch their collective tally up to 110-112 by exploiting the infighting a bit better.
Hardly anyone expected the Opposition in Maharashtra to improve on its 2014 tally (87 seats) when the campaign for 2019 Assembly elections began. Several pollsters and poll pundits said the re-election of Fadnavis was a forgone conclusion. Some even said the BJP-Sena could cross 220 seats. In that context, Opposition put up a remarkable show by garnering 105 out of 288. However, they could not defeat the perception of a one-sided contest, thereby, losing out on the swing vote.
This reporter spent about three weeks on ground in Marathwada and Vidarbha region, and the anti-incumbency against Fadnavis was quite palpable. Shutting down of industries, rising unemployment and acute agrarian distress were some of the many factors which had angered the voters. However, with a formidable Opposition missing on the ground, it was also followed with an inevitability of Fadnavis' re-election. The voters thought: Why vote for somebody else and waste it when you know they aren't winning. If your MLA and Chief Minister belong to the same party, at least it increases the chances of your constituency being developed.
The Opposition failed to convince voters that the contest is closer than it appears, largely because of its own limitations, and partly because of pliable regional media. When BJP started importing Opposition leaders ahead of the elections, not many asked why they needed to engineer these defections in the first place if the outcome was a forgone conclusion.
But that does not take away from the fact that the Shiv Sena did a better job of an Opposition than the Congress, and, to a large extent, NCP. Several farmers disillusioned with Fadnavis and the state policies, told this reporter that they didn't see the Opposition focus on their issues. When a bank denies crop loan to farmers, local Sena leaders and their cadre are more likely to stage rasta-rokos and gherao arrogant bank officials than local Congress cadres.
Over the past five years, how many agitations come to mind where Congress and NCP leaders were jailed or manhandled by the police for taking to the streets over farm issues? Nobody in the Opposition can claim to be the equivalent of Bachchu Kadu.
In fact, observers note that except for Western Maharashtra, where Sharad Pawar scripted a stellar performance, the rest of the Opposition MLAs managed to win because of their own micro-management in their respective constituencies. Dhananjay Munde is a decent example.
He had an uphill battle in Parli against his cousin and BJP leader Pankaja Munde, who had the emotions going for her, considering she is Gopinath Munde's daughter. On top of that, both, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah had held rallies in Parli. She still lost by a margin of over 30,000 votes.
Modi and Shah harped on the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir, and tried to ride a nationalistic wave, much like they successfully did earlier this year ahead of Lok Sabha elections. Dhananjay, instead of falling in that trap, ran a dogged campaign, repeatedly focussing on the real issues. He spoke about the future roadmap for Parli, he raked up issue of unemployment, he talked about crop insurance, he cited the farm loan waiver.
Voters make a clear cut distinction between state elections and national elections. When this reporter spoke to people on the ground, most were ambivalent about raking up the issue of Article 370 and Kashmir in context of Maharashtra elections.
Wherever they thought their local candidate had the ability and power to take their issues forward, they reposed their faith in him or her. If the local cadre appeared dormant, they ignored the anti-incumbency and stuck to status quo. In that sense, Pawar, who virtually took on the BJP-Shiv Sena juggernaut on his own, could have used a bit more support from the Congress.
Even senior Congress leaders concede that the party and its cadres could have been more active over the past five years, and the party needs to rebuild itself, particularly in urban areas. But they also blame Prakash Ambedkar's Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) for playing the spoiler, and "helping the BJP". Numbers indicate that VBA directly hampered Opposition's chances in 23 seats and AIMIM did so in two seats, however, Congress-NCP would do well to instrospect rather than indulge in blame-game.
The fact of the matter is they have taken Muslim and Dalit votes for granted without actually giving the communities much representation. Interestingly, BJP and Shiv Sena have had more SC and ST MLAs in the Assembly than Congress and NCP do.
Congress and NCP's traditional support has revolved around Marathas, Dalits and Muslims. With BJP eating into Maratha votes, and Dalits moving towards VBA, it leaves little for the Congress and NCP to bank on.
While 25 seats could have drastically changed the face of Maharshtra Assembly election results, VBA and AIMIM served a wake up call to the Opposition. With Fadnavis sidelining prominent OBC leaders from his own party, the time is ripe for the Opposition to cultivate some of its own, along with giving representation to the marginalised sections of the society.
The Opposition has performed the way it has despite its show over the past five years, not because of it. Satyajeet Tambe, President, Maharashtra State Youth Congress, summed up the results on Twitter candidly. "Voters were in favour of us. We fell short," he tweeted.
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— Satyajeet Tambe (@satyajeettambe) October 24, 2019
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