March 08, 2014

MAHARASHTRA & LOK SABHA 2014


UPA OR NDA: WHO WILL WIN THIS FACE-OFF?



With 48 seats, Maharashtra is numerically the second most important state from the perspective of the upcoming General Elections. In this key state, the battle lines have been drawn as the UPA comprising of the Congress and the NCP are taking on a formidable opposition stitched together by the BJP. Dubbed as the 'Mahayuti' or the 'Grand Alliance', it includes the Shiv Sena, the Republican Party of India (Athavale), the Swabhiman Shektari Sanghatana (SSS) and the Rashtriya Samaj Party (RSP). While the saffron outfit may have built up a strong coalition to take on the ruling regime, there is a constant fear that Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNA), which has stayed away from the formation, may cause a split in the Marathi votes, thereby helping the UPA like it did in 2009. Meanwhile, with the term of the present legislative assembly ending in about six months time, it is highly likely that even the Lok Sabha polls may be dominated by a mixture of local as well as national issues. 

ISSUES

(1) Anti-incumbency... at State and the Centre: The Congress and the NCP has been in power in Maharashtra since 1999. Now this is certainly a fact they can be proud of. But the problem is that the kind of anti-incumbency against the Congress-NCP combine is huge and many believe that after reaching the peak, its performance can only go downwards from here. Besides, all is not smooth between the two alliance partners. Although he did rule out any formal partnership with the BJP, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar and his party colleague Praful Patel have both dismissed the need for a debate on BJP’s PM candidate Narendra Modi’s role in the Gujarat riots. With 'Secularism' being the glue that keeps the UPA together, Pawar's clean chit to Modi has certainly raised many eyebrows.

Adding to their woes is the fact that there is anti-incumbency against the UPA II government at the Centre. Both the Congress and the NCP have been in power in New Delhi since 2004. The disastrous performance of the Manmohan Singh government is going to hit them hard in most states and Maharashtra is no exception. You can expect the BJP and the Senas to raise topics like price rise and inflation on which the Central government has failed to deliver.

(2) Corruption: If there is one issue that UPA II will ever be remembered for, it is for sure going to be its inability to tackle corruption in the country. Countless scams including 2G, Common Wealth Games, Coal-gate and Chopper-gate have proved that neither the grand old party nor the UPA government has the guts to tackle this menace. And the government in Mumbai too is not far behind. The names of several top Congress leaders including former Chief Ministers Vilasrao Deshmukh, Ashok Chavan, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and Shivajirao Nilangekar were named in an inquiry into the Aadarsh Society scam which was partially accept by the state government, that too after a public rap from the Gandhis. Similarly, the multi-crore Irrigation scam and the alleged role of NCP leader Ajit Pawar is another blot on the incumbent regime.

(3) The MNS factor: Former BJP President Nitin Gadkari’s meetings with Raj Thackeray led to many speculations over the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena entering the grand alliance. Considering the domestic politics in the Thackeray household, it seems next to impossible for the two Senas to come together. The UPA is heavily banking on Raj to split the Marathi votes and this seems to be its only hope to end up with a decent tally. However, there were reports in some sections of the media that the MNS may not contest the Lok Sabha polls at all and rather concentrate on the state elections, in bid to consolidate its standings. If this is true, then the BJP and its allies can be expected to walk away with sizable number of seats from Maharashtra.

CONTENDERS

Now that the formations are clear, I think that we should talk about the alliances and their chances instead of focusing on individual parties.

(1) The UPA: The Congress is on a sticky wicket. Prithviraj Chavan who was handpicked by Sonia Gandhi to be the Chief Minister has done a fair job. However, the rejection and then the partial acceptance of the Aadarsh Inquiry report – a move which seems to have been taken under political compulsions by his government will hit his personal credibility. The scam has dented the prospects of the grand old party and is a near death blow to the political ambitions of Ashok Chavan. With Vilasrao Deshmukh dead, it is up to the SC leader and Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde to lead the Congress campaign here. As such it will be in the interest of the Congress if the leader from Solapur can control his language – his remarks on media and Arvind Kejriwal are only going to woo the people away from the UPA.

The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has never looked so weak ever since its inception in 1999 (Link). Like its erstwhile UPA ally - the DMK, the NCP has become synonymous with corruption. Most opinion polls predict that Pawar's outfit may be reduced to single digits. Unlike the great captains who prefer to go down with the sinking ship, the Maratha strongman has got himself elected to the Rajya Sabha. Pawar's daughter Supriya Sule and former cabinet minister Praful Patel will lead the party's charge in Maharashtra. Besides, the NCP will be hoping that its prominent state leaders like Sule's cousin Ajit and former deputy CMs R R Patil and Chaggan Bhujbal will help the outfit do well in their respective strongholds.

(2) The NDA: After warming the Opposition benches for long, the saffronists are sensing victory. With political analysts believing that Maharashtra could one of the states that could see them do well, the BJP has tried its best to give itself a good chance from here. The entry of the RPI (A) and the SSS into the NDA fold will help the coalition woo Dalits and farmers. More importantly, it has put its house in order. Earlier reports suggesting fiction between the Gopinath Munde and Nitin Gadkari factions of the party in Maharashtra have all but disappeared. The BJP is expected to ride on the NaMo wave and counter the UPA on issues like corruption, inflation and economic slump.

The Shiv Sena (SS), which was written off about three years ago will be fighting to retain its political significance in the state. Though the party witnessed a split in its ranks after the dynamic Raj Thackeray walked away to form the MNS, a third straight victory in the Mumbai Municipal polls and the public out pour following the death of supremo Balasaheb indicated that the SS was still an important player in the state. The Lok Sabha and the later state elections of 2014 is a lithmus test for party president Uddhav Thackeray as well as the Shiv Sena with few of its leaders crossing over to the Congress or the NCP. If it can end up with over 12 seats, it would emerge as a force to reckon with even on the Central stage and Balasaheb's choice of his son Uddhav to lead his party after him will be justified. Like the NCP, the year 2014 will be extremely crucial in the political prospects of this party.

A third member of the 'Mahayuti' is Ramdas Athavale's Republican Party of India (A). The Dalit leader was with the UPA in 2009 and has represented Pandharpur and Mumbai North Central in the Lok Sabha earlier. The presence of the Dalit party like RPI (A) in the grand coalition is highly symbolic too as it helps the BJP to get more low caste votes. Raju Shetti's Swabhiman Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS) is popular amongst the farmers, especially in the Hatkanangle region. The entry of Mahadeo Jankar's Rashtriya Samaj Party (RSP) at the last moment will again help in consolidation of the anti-UPA votes.

(3) Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS): The only thing that prevent the NDA from doing well in Maharashtra is Raj Thackeray. Whether you like him or not, the MNS chief is a force to reckon with. His call for his supporters to attack officials if they ask for toll led to violence at many places recently. Many see him as the 'true successor' to his uncle Balasaheb and the kind of emotional connect he has with the traditional Sena base is indeed enviable. With Nitin Gadkari opening back channel links with him, there were reports indicating that he might join the 'Mahayuti'. However, nothing is clear in this regards. At the same time, several smaller parties like Jayant Patil's Peasants and Worker's Party and Vinay Kore's Jan Surajya Party are keen to ally with Raj to form a Third Front.

(4) Aam Admi Party (AAP): While the party would have done extremely well in the state had anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare lend its support to them, the AAP is still hopeful that it can replicate its success in Delhi in the financial capital of Mumbai, at least on a much smaller scale. The first list of probable candidates has some big names like banker Meera Sanyal (Mumbai - South), activist Mayank Gandhi (Mumbai - North) and Vijay Pandhare (Nashik) who helped expose the irrigation scam.

PAST PERFORMANCE

Looking back into the past, the NDA will be hoping to replicate its superlative performance of 1996 when the BJP and the Sena bagged 33 of the 48 seats in the state. However, they could not hold that for long. The unpopularity of the SS-BJP government under Manohar Joshi in Mumbai saw the allies losing ground to the Congress. With Sharad Pawar still with the INC, the tables were turned as the Congress took home 33 seats, reducing the saffron partners to 10. The following elections though, saw a different trend. After Pawar formed the NCP over the foreign origin issue of Sonia Gandhi, the BJP emerged as the largest party here with a tally of 15 while the 13 candidates of the Shiv Sena made the cut. The 2004 polls saw a close contest with the NDA holding a marginal upper hand here although it was the Congress-led alliance that emerged as the winner nationwide. The UPA dominated 2009 finsihing with 25 seats whereas the NDA took 20.

Political Party
1996
1998
1999
2004
2009
Congress (INC)
15
33
10
13
17
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)
N/A
N/A
6
9
8
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
18
4
15
12
9
Shiv Sena (SS)
15
6
13
13
11
Others
-
5
4
1
3

MY PREDICTIONS

The Congress and the NCP have stuck to their 2009 formula for seat sharing with the INC contesting 26 and leaving 22 for Pawar's outfit. The seat sharing amongst the constituents of the grand alliance are not yet finalized. You can definitely expect some fiction here considering that there are 5 parties with each trying to maximize its numbers.Meanwhile, I predict the NDA to cross the 25 mark. The UPA will drop seats but will not be routed. The NCP's performance will be below average.

Coalition
Expected Seats
1
United Progressive Alliance (INC-NCP)
15-20
2
National Democratic Alliance (BJP-SS-RPI(A)-SSS-RSP)
22-27
3
Others (MNS/AAP)
1-5


WATCH OUT

(1) The Revival of the Shiv Sena: This could be the big make or break moment for the Shiv Sena and its chief Uddhav Thackeray. If the party can even retain its tally of 11, it will be a significant achievement and will pay rich dividends especially in the state polls scheduled in late 2014. However the split in its traditional vote banks, may cost it some seats.

(2) Will he or won't he? Will Raj Thackeray's MNS nominate candidates for the big polls or will it concentrate on the state elections is one big question that could change the dimensions in the state. If he does, he could cause serious damage to the 'Mahayuti' in several constituencies. Also, another interesting thing to see will be how Raj can take his party from Mumbai-Thane region to other parts of Maharashtra and what role will he play in the state politics in the near future.

(3) The NCP in transition: With Pawar ruling himself out of the Lok Sabha 2014, an era in the party's history has come to an end. It is but evident that the young Turks will have to take over. Will the transition be smooth? I don't think so. Pawar's daughter Supriya Sule and nephew Ajit Pawar are the front runners to take over. In a comprise, you can expect Supriya to lead the party in the Parliament with Praful Patel by her side whereas Ajit might command the state unit. At this juncture, one needs to watch the moves of senior leaders Chaggan Bhujbal and R R Patil closely.

(4) The fight for Mumbai: In 2009, the UPA won all seven seats in the Mumbai-Thane region. In many seats the NDA was relegated to the third spot after the split in the opposition votes. Can the NDA wrest the financial capital back from the Congress-led front. While this is likely, the MNS can dampen the prospects of the NDA.

(5) Statehood for Vidarbha: With the Congress and BJP colluding to give statehood to Telangana, such demands from other parts of the country are likely. The demands for a separate state carved out of eastern Maharashtra has been raised since long. Both the Congress and the BJP have reiterated their support for the cause. However, the Shiv Sena has opposed the division tooth and nail.

For more posts in this series:
(1) Telangana & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(2) Karnataka & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(3) Rajasthan & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(4) Goa & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(5) Kerala & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(6) Assam & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(7) Tripura & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(8) Haryana & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(9) Chhattisgarh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(10) Jammu Kashmir & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(11) Madhya Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(12) Bihar & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(13) Jharkhand & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(14) Sikkim & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(15) Arunachal Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(16) Nagaland & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(17) Manipur & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(18) Meghalaya & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(19) Mizoram & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(20) Delhi & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(21) Uttarakhand & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(22) Himachal Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(23) Gujarat & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(24) Punjab & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(25) Bengal & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(26) Odisha & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(27) Tamil Nadu & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(28) Andhra & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)
(29) Uttar Pradesh & Lok Sabha 2014 (Link)