Sunday, October 19, 2014

Proving a Point

The 2014 Assembly Elections in Maharashtra was destined to be the most well-contested one in its history and it lived up to that. Not since the first election after the partition of Bombay state did we see so many actors trying to churn the political scene in the state and force a change in the status quo and the catalyst for that was undoubtedly the Narendra Modi-led BJP's spectacular performance in the May Lok Sabha elections, where Maharashtra sent a large contingent of MPs to the party's majority government in Delhi. No wonder than that the BJP was out to prove a point to its former ally, the Shiv Sena - it is not the big brother in the state. And that point was proved as the BJP ended up winning double the number of seats as the Sena, although it fell short of a majority.

In what is now a hung assembly, the BJP has emerged as the first party in three and a half decades to cross the 100-seat mark in Maharashtra, a feat that only the Congress had achieved previously. However, it will need allies. The NCP, always quick to please its masters, new or old, has extended unconditional support to the BJP. However, this can at best serve as a bargaining chip for the BJP to extract a deal from the Sena, with the two being natural allies that simply must form a government together - the mandate is clearly for that. If push comes to shove, the option of President's Rule is always with the BJP. If the Congress-NCP-Sena form a grand anti-BJP alliance, it will do damage to all of them, as their respective constituencies are fundamentally opposed to each other.

The CM remains an open question as Devendra Fadnavis, the former mayor of Nagpur, seems to be a favorite, with Pankaja Munda following close behind. Incidentally, so strong was the sympathy wave for her deceased father that she won by a record margin, beating the one set by PM Modi in May. A surprise name making the rounds is that of Nitin Gadkari, although Modi may not want to lose one of his few competent Union Ministers.

Two more points remain. The Congress did not do as badly as was expected, but it did halve its tally. Given the fifteen-year anti-incumbency, this was somewhat expected. Only four Chief Ministers (Pawan Chamling, Manik Sarkar, Sheila Dixit and Narendra Modi) have been able to beat that kind of anti-incumbency in the recent past and Prithviraj Chavan was hardly going to change that. Still, from a national perspective, the Congress is the only party that can challenge the BJP and with this defeat together with the one in Haryana, the party has been contained in Karnataka, Kerala and the Himalayas! If Modi is serious about Congress-mukt Bharat, even those may not be the safest of places for the Gandhi dynasty.

This election also marks the demise of the MNS, which finished with one seat despite much hype after ending with a duck in May. It simply makes no sense for the party to exist anymore. Unlike in 2009, when it managed to divide votes and give the Congress-NCP another term, the electorate has clearly dropped it and chosen the Shiv Sena as the custodian of Bal Thackeray's legacy. It would be wise for Raj Thackeray to merge his party with the BJP now if he wants to get anywhere. A merger with the Shiv Sena may also help, though it's unlikely.

As for the young Aditya Thackeray, he clearly has a long way to go before he can take risks on behalf of his party. But that clearly is a story unfinished. 

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