Maharashtra polls: BJP's overconfidence, downplaying of local issues behind its reduced tally in crucial Vidarbha region

  • Although Fadnavis referred to BJP rebels who were unhappy with compromises made during the seat sharing and ticket distribution negotiations, the partyâ��s reduced tally can also be traced to a rebellion from voters in the agrarian-dominated Vidarbha region, which also has a sizeable tribal population

  • Reeling under a protracted drought and agrarian crisis, the electorate voted the BJP out of power in 19 seats that it had won in 2014

  • Vidarbha consists of 62 Assembly constituencies spread across 11 districts in eastern Maharashtra

Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, after the BJP’s less-than-perfect performance in the Assembly elections, is hanging on to the possibility of a second term in office. However, on Thursday, he took stock of the results and acknowledged that the BJP's performance was dampened by rebels. "We prepared for merit list, but have to be content with first class marks. We think the rebellion has cost us and we will look into that."

The BJP, along with its alliance partner Shiv Sena, was looking to sweep the polls with a comfortable majority and possibly with a bigger mandate than what it got in 2014. However, the parties’ tallies were reduced from 122 to 105 and 63 to 56 seats, respectively.

Although Fadnavis referred to BJP rebels who were unhappy with compromises made during the seat sharing and ticket distribution negotiations, the party’s reduced tally can also be traced to a 'rebellion' from voters in the agrarian-dominated Vidarbha region, which also has a sizeable tribal population. Vidarbha consists of 62 Assembly constituencies spread across 11 districts in eastern Maharashtra.

Reeling under a protracted drought and agrarian crisis, the electorate voted the BJP out of power in 19 seats that it had won in 2014. However, since the party also won in three seats it didn’t have in 2014, the total loss can be pegged at 16.

 Maharashtra polls: BJPs overconfidence, downplaying of local issues behind its reduced tally in crucial Vidarbha region

1) Activist Shankar Bharde in Chandrapur's Warora constituency said that people were in favour of the Congress due to work on FRA. Natasha Trivedi/ Firstpost

Local issues informed final decision

In Vidarbha, this reporter visited five constituencies in Gadchiroli, Chandrapur, and Yavatmal districts and found that most members of the Adivasi community were disappointed with the BJP's failure to fulfill election promises made in 2014, and most significantly, the lack of implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA).

A uniform sentiment across the district was that the government had not made any efforts to understand and work on the local issues. In at least three constituencies, welfare schemes had not made a single appearance in five years, and people were still struggling for basic facilities like water and livelihood.

The shortcomings in the quality of life that voters had envisaged under the BJP, eclipsed the party’s campaign around the abrogation of Article 370 and nationalist sentiments. Not a single voter made a mention of these issues when asked about the attributes of the state government in the run-up to the election on 21 October.

Jaideep Hardikar, a Nagpur-based journalist, puts this in perspective. Stating that these polls were largely local issue-based, he said, "People in the rural areas were angry with the BJP over the farmers' distress and other such issues. Even though the party had made inroads in Vidarbha in the last election, people were also wanting new faces this time."

"There was also a factor of anti-incumbency, but directed largely towards the individual MLA than the government as a whole, due to non-action on local problems like the lack of drinking water, poor infrastructure in urban areas and the agrarian distress having deepened since 2014."

The seats won by the Congress-NCP alliance in Vidarbha evened out their losses elsewhere in the state, he says. The Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party won 54 seats and the Congress won 44 seats in total.

However, experts insist that while the electorate – both Adivasi and general – was grappling with difficulties, in this election these real issues were relegated to the "margins" while emotional appeal, ie a candidate’s personal equation with the people, his or her visibility on-ground before the election, and even identity-based politics had a major role to play.

Sarpanch of Sitarampeth village in Warora constituency, Rambhau Dhande. Natasha Trivedi/ Firstpost

Sarpanch of Sitarampeth village in Warora constituency, Rambhau Dhande. Natasha Trivedi/ Firstpost

BJP wiped out from Chandrapur, Gadchiroli

In Chandrapur’s Warora Assembly constituency, Congress candidate Pratibha Dhanorkar won 63,862 votes and was elected to the seat with a margin of almost 10,000 votes over Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Deotale. Dhanorkar is the wife of the state's lone Congress MP, Suresh.

Suresh was elected to the Assembly on a Shiv Sena ticket in 2014, after which he quit the party and joined the Congress for the Lok Sabha election in May this year.

Shankar Bharde, a local activist, said that Suresh had proactively taken up people's concerns regarding FRA, which empowers tribal communities to exercise rights over the resources available in forests. About 19 percent of the electorate, categorised under 'Scheduled Tribes', depends on forest produce for their livelihood.

"Suresh Dhanorkar, as an MLA, had promised that he would do as much as he could about FRA, and he set up meetings with the district collector for us, which gave our effort for community forest rights the required boost," Bharde said.

"His equation with the electorate and the initiatives he had undertaken have helped Pratibha in securing a win this election. People trust that she will also take up the issues," he added.

In Gadchiroli district, voters under the Aheri Assembly constituency voted for a change from the BJP to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

People seemed in favour of the previous governments’ functioning when it came to local problems.

Blurring the distinction between the Centre and the state government, a perception often propagated by the BJP’s election campaigns, Devu Podadi in Jhareguda village said, "Ever since the Modi government came to power, our problems increased. The conflict with the forest department got worse, and we are struggling for employment. At least it wasn’t so bad under the Congress."

In another constituency in Gadchiroli, Armori, the sitting BJP MLA Gajbe Krushna Damaji retained his seat in the October election. An activist working in the area who asked to remain anonymous said that Damaji had a good rapport with the people on a personal level.

"When residents went to him with a problem, at least he lent them an ear, even though not much tangible work was done here. Secondly, there wasn’t a strong enough Opposition candidate contesting the seat, which also helped his case," she said.

‘Electorate was taken for granted’

The BJP seems to have fallen prey to overconfidence. In Maharashtra, 22 MPs from the BJP won seats in the Lower House of Parliament.

The BJP was possibly riding on the back of the Lok Sabha win and assumed that all voters were in their favour no matter what, the activist said. "They probably didn’t realise that an election campaign on Article 370 or targeting Pakistan won’t resonate at the state level,"she added.

"The BJP had become complacent about campaigning and took for granted that all the votes would be in their kitty whether they campaigned or not."

In Marathwada’s Beed district too, where the BJP lost the Adivasi farmer-dominated Ashti and Majalgaon seats, a similar phenomenon took place, says Pravin Tokale, a local journalist.

"The loyalty people have for Sharad Pawar really showed through in the Opposition’s win in these two seats. Farmers across the spectrum were unhappy with the shoddy implementation of the farm loan waiver initiative. Additionally, there was infighting in the BJP units of these constituencies because locally popular leaders weren't given tickets," he added.

Updated Date: Oct 28, 2019 15:33:27 IST