Maharashtra polls: Despite BJP appearing to lead others, the game is still open

The presumption appears to be that the Modi wave still has some momentum left in Maharashtra’s Assembly elections from the Lok Sabha polls. But there are suggestions that the party is not striving hard enough at the grassroots unlike the Shiv Sena. Sena publicly asserts there is no Modi wave, but is ensuring that even its vestiges are calmed.

The Congress is disheartened, has become defeatist already, and the Nationalist Congress Party has put on a mask of a likely winner, saying that despite its collaborative contribution to misrule for 15 years, it wants one chance to prove it can do better without being hamstrung by the Congress. In reality, they had made the government a boxing ring for the past half-a-term.

These two parties have veterans to whom the label of a party is inconsequential, and if at all, acquired at the time of the elections as a convenience. Others, simply because they are on their tickets do not make them winners. These elements complicates the math one works on, though there is an emerging trend that social bases may not dictate voting trends.

 Maharashtra polls: Despite BJP appearing to lead others, the game is still open

Representational image. AFP

The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena has both bluster and a clear stance on many issues, and does not imagine that it shall, this time too, be a spoiler. It seems to hope that in a hung Assembly, it may have a clear role. Having shown a predilection to tie-up with the parent Shiv Sena soon after the two rival alliances broke up, it has kept itself open to a fractured mandate.

Talking of mandates, we have pre-poll surveys indicating likely wins have their uses, but only limited. For one, if the numbers indicate slide for any party, it begins to pull up its socks. If it indicates a win, that party begins to build strategies to consolidate voters’ favour. But in public, no political party, except for the one who leads, agrees with the findings.

They have their usual, and right, explanations – that past polls had gone wrong, the sample sizes were too small, the timing of the survey or even the set of structured questions and how they were asked – for their doubts on the numbers thrown up. The recent experience of fixing of findings as shown during the Delhi Assembly polls is yet another, making them unreliable in general.

And yet, findings in three polls, Headlines Today-Cicero, The Week-Hansa, and ABP News-Nielsen are doing the rounds. When BJP is shown leading the pack in Maharashtra Assembly elections, with a majority on its own as per The Week-Hansa findings, it certainly helps the BJP to build its campaign on the mood as quantified in numbers. Others say, hey, wait – Modi isn’t turning the trick yet.

Poll predictions are inherently risky though some brave it out on TV screens. Not all people like to tell you – yes this is a hackneyed and of course a correct assumption – which way they are inclined to vote. But Pratap Asbe, journalist-turned political analyst seemingly has a clue: if they want a strong man to stay, they say he would win; if not, they provide vague responses.

Apart from the BJP staying relatively strong in the three pre-poll findings, respectively at 133, 154, and 120 out of the 288 seats on contest, the numbers widely vary for other parties but the line-up, in descending order is clear. Sena which shared the same voter base as the BJP comes second, the Congress and the NCP swing between the third and fourth places.

These numbers, of course, don’t amount to calling the elections. But they seem to indicate a likely trend. Trouble is when predicting the outcome, with or without the pre-poll survey, is that Assembly seats are also won or lost with narrow margins, just like many civic seats in towns and seats are. This time, there are far too many in the fray.
Take the 2009 Assembly outcome. At that time, it was bipolar with two alliances ranged against each other, as it was in 2004 though there were a few smaller parties and Independents, sometimes a euphemism for rebels in established parties also on the ballot. This time, they are all contesting against each other in a free-for-all and smaller parties too.

In 2009, as many as 20 constituencies saw winners with a margins of as low as 2,000 votes, though about half of them with only about 1000. One candidate scrapped past with 34 votes in what must have been a cliff-hanger. Possibility of such knife-edge cannot be ruled out this time since the state hasn’t seen such intense multi-party rivalries since its formation.

When this could happen in such tight contests, and when elections in constituencies could even be six-sided, with, say the Ittehadul-e-Musalmeen (MIM) in 24 seats, another alliance led by Prakash Ambedkar, even rebels from the Swabhimani Paksh, guessing outcomes becomes dicey. A few hundred votes hither and thither and an apple-cart could be nicely upturned.
There is no guarantee that the major chunk of Dalit votes which may have gone with Ramdas Athavale would swing with his politics of opportunism. The Dalit vote anyhow is fractured and is moving away from voting en bloc. Even as the two Hindutva parties have toned down their advocacy, the MIM has moved in with its communal fire and brimstone, all requiring predictions a fool’s game.

Updated Date: Oct 11, 2014 21:37:50 IST