The countdown to Maharashtra’s assembly elections has begun. The Election Commission of India has announced the state will go to polls on October 21 and the results will be announced on October 24.
With poll schedule announced, it’s a good time to have a look at where do various political parties/alliances stand as they prepare for the ‘Maha’ battle.
BJP-Shiv Sena: The Rifts Resurface
The BJP and the Shiv Sena, the two major partners in the ruling coalition of Maharashtra, are yet to finalise their seat-sharing pact. These two parties have been allies since 1989, but they contested 2014 assembly elections independently as they failed to reach an agreement on seat-sharing. After the polls, the BJP emerged as the single largest party in the state with 122 seats, and the Shiv Sena was second with 63 seats. Later, the Shiv Sena agreed to join the coalition government, led by BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis. However, in January 2018, the Shiv Sena decided to exit the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the Centre – a decision it reversed in February this year, ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The BJP and the Shiv Sena are still in talks to finalise the plan for the upcoming assembly polls. But as the two sides continue to haggle, BJP’s working president JP Nadda and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray are believed to have told their respective party workers to be prepared to contest single-handedly across all 288 constituencies.
The Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have already finalised their seat-sharing arrangement – the two parties will fight on 125 seats each out of the total 288 seats, with the rest of the constituencies being left for smaller allies.
Congress-NCP: United, But Facing Desertions
These two parties, which joined hands in 1999 and ruled Maharashtra together for 15 years, had also contested the last assembly elections separately. The Congress had won 42 seats in those polls and the NCP had won 41. In fact, after the assembly elections, NCP chief Sharad Pawar had offered his party’s outside support to the BJP which was short of the majority mark by over 20 seats. But like the saffron parties, the Congress and the NCP also reunited for this year’s Lok Sabha elections.
Though the Congress and the NCP have finalised their pre-poll alliance, both the parties are facing a deluge of high-profile exits. Several sitting MLAs from these two parties have jumped ships and joined the ruling parties ahead of the elections.
Prakash Ambedkar’s VBA: The Third Front
The Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA), led by Prakash Ambedkar, has been trying to emerge as the third front in Maharashtra’s largely bipolar politics. The Congress-NCP alliance had made a pitch to the VBA to join the opposition coalition and had offered 96 seats to it. However, the VBA refused to take that offer, as it entailed giving some of the 96 seats to other smaller parties in the alliance.
The VBA also suffered a setback when its key ally, Asaduddin Owaisi-led All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), decided to exit the coalition a few days ago over seat-sharing issues. The two parties had joined hands in 2018 and had contested this year’s Lok Sabha polls together. Though the AIMIM has announced the split, it has said that a ‘rethink is possible’ if Prakash Ambedkar ‘shows flexibility’. Meanwhile, the VBA has said that it is tying up with the All India Ulama Board (AIUB) for the upcoming elections.
The Curious Case Of MNS
Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) remains a marginal yet interesting player in the state’s politics. MNS chief, who at one time had declared himself as the successor to Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, has failed to make an impact in the state’s electoral battles. Raj Thackeray’s party didn’t even enter the fray for the Lok Sabha elections, however, he attracted huge crowds in his anti-NDA rallies. At these rallies he was seen ‘fact-checking’ Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statements, taking a u-turn from days when he was an avid supporter of the PM. Also, Raj Thackeray was questioned by the Enforcement Directorate last month in connection with the IL&FS scam.
Last month, the MNS chief had urged all political parties to boycott polls till the Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines or the ballot paper system were not made available. Reports had also suggested that some senior MNS leaders believed that the party was not in the position to contest. However, the latest buzz is that the MNS may field its candidates in around 80-100 seats.
The Significance Of These Elections
These assembly elections are significant in multiple ways. These polls will be seen as a vote on the leadership of Devendra Fadnavis, who is set to become the first chief minister of Maharashtra to complete a full term in office in around four and a half decades, and only the second to do so since the creation of the state.
These elections come at a time when the economy is facing a slowdown, with the rate of growth slipping to 5 percent in the first quarter of the financial year. Since Maharashtra is a manufacturing hub, the state’s poll results will also give a sense of voters’ reaction to the slowdown and its impact.These are also the first set of elections after the Lok Sabha polls, and follow some important moves by the central government like the suspension of Article 370 in Jammu & Kashmir. On the other hand, for the Congress, these are the first polls after the resignation of Rahul Gandhi from the party’s top post and the return of Sonia Gandhi as the president.