By Amulya Ganguli
Since Maharashtra is the first state to go to the polls after the general election and the subsequent by-elections, it is not surprising that it is experiencing the fallout from these contests in full measure.
If the Congress is paying the price for its weakened condition after the May debacle, the BJP is facing the consequences of its poor showing in the recent by-polls.
The perceived debility of the two national parties has encouraged their allies – the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in the case of the Congress and the Shiv Sena where the BJP is concerned – to ditch their Big Brothers.
It has to be remembered, however, that neither the Congress nor the BJP can be regarded as the No. 1 parties in Maharashtra. In the 2004 assembly elections, for instance, the Congress won 69 seats to the NCP’s 71. Although the scene changed in 2009 when the Congress won 82 and the NCP 62, that was the result of the upturn in the fortunes of the Congress and the United Progressive Alliance in that year which saw the Congress cross the 200-seat mark in the Lok Sabha.
But, the party came down to earth with a thump this year where it won a mere two out of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra and the NCP four. It was probably this outcome which persuaded the NCP that it might fare better if it went alone instead of staying on in a sinking ship.
The case of the Shiv Sena-BJP ties is a little different. In the parliamentary polls, the BJP trumped the Shiv Sena by winning 23 seats against the latter’s 18. This was the one occasion where the BJP went ahead of its regional ally, which had always regarded itself as the No. 1 in Maharashtra.
Arguably, it might have agreed to play second fiddle to the BJP this time if the latter had continued the winning spree it displayed in the general election. But, the BJP’s setbacks in a series of by-elections, starting in Uttarakhand in July, then continuing in Bihar in August and finally showing the same downward trend in U.P. and Rajasthan in September, appears to have convinced the Shiv Sena that the so-called Modi wave was a one-time affair.
To drive home this point, the Shiv Sena pointed out that the “wave” had no impact in Tamil Nadu, Odisha and West Bengal, where the regional parties, viz. the AIADMK, the Biju Janata Dal and the Trinamool Congress, had prevailed. By this logic, the Shiv Sena wanted to retain its primacy of position in Maharashtra.
Although the BJP hadn’t earlier been averse to conceding the top slot to the Shiv Sena – after all, the Shiv Sena’s Manohar Joshi was the chief minister between 1995 and 1999 when the two saffron parties won their first victory in Maharashtra – it was unwilling to play a similar subsidiary role now when it has gained greater prominence than ever before under Narendra Modi.
The BJP may have also felt that the Shiv Sena was no longer what it used to be when Bal Thackeray was alive. Although the BJP itself has been weakened by the deaths of Pramod Mahajan and Gopinath Munde, it apparently still felt it had in Nitin Gadkari someone who could be chief minister and was not ready to concede the privilege to Uddhav Thackeray.
The rupture between these parties has created an unusual situation when there will be four major contenders in the October 15 election. As such, it will be difficult to guess how they will fare. But, if one is willing to take the risk, it can be predicted that the BJP will be the first party, followed by the Shiv Sena and the NCP with the Congress, ignominiously, bringing up the rear.
However, since none of them is likely to secure a majority on its own in the 288-member House, the real fun and games will begin after the elections when each one of them will be searching for a partner to enable it to cross the half-way mark in the assembly.
The situation will be complicated by the presence of the smaller parties, such as Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), the Swabhiman Paksha, which won one seat in the parliamentary polls (where the Congress won two), the Republican Party and others.
It is not impossible that the cold dunking of the popular verdict will persuade the BJP and the Shiv Sena to come together again. But, other permutations and combinations are also possible – for instance, between the BJP and the MNS and even between the BJP and the NCP.
Whether the Congress and the NCP will come together again will depend on the state of the cold vibes between Rahul Gandhi and Sharad Pawar. If the former had played a part in preventing the Maharashtra Congress to be more amenable to the NCP in the matter of seat-sharing, then a remarriage is unlikely.
The only positive outcome of this messy situation will be that each party will know where it stands not only in the Maharashtra context, but also, indirectly, at the national level. (IPA Service)