Maha Bat­tle Be­gins

In Ma­ha­rash­tra, BJP is taxed more by ally Shiv Sena than ri­vals Congress and NCP

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - An Epiphany Of Ideas -

The on­go­ing seat shar­ing talks be­tween BJP and Shiv Sena ap­pear to be reach­ing a bend in the road with BJP push­ing for con­test­ing a ma­jor­ity of the seats. Such an out­come will for­malise the changed political sit­u­a­tion in Ma­ha­rash­tra since the 2014 assem­bly polls when BJP stunned Shiv Sena, till then the se­nior part­ner, by win­ning 122 seats against the lat­ter’s 63. Need­ing 144 seats to stay in gov­ern­ment, both par­ties have en­dured an un­easy re­la­tion­ship with Sena con­stantly snip­ing at BJP. Ran­cour gave way to prag­ma­tism when Lok Sabha elec­tions ap­proached and an al­liance was quickly stitched up al­low­ing NDA to walk away with 41 of 48 Ma­ha­rash­tra seats ear­lier this year.

The big ques­tion is whether the same good sense will again pre­vail among the two part­ners who first bonded over Hin­dutva. The stakes are higher for Shiv Sena as its pri­mary “Marathi manoos” iden­tity keeps los­ing steam against BJP’s Hindu na­tion­al­is­tic political pitch. BJP is eye­ing gains from its mus­cu­lar po­si­tions on Ar­ti­cle 370 and Pak­istan and the pop­u­lar­ity of Prime Min­is­ter Narendra Modi. BJP is also helped by its chief min­is­ter Deven­dra Fad­navis earn­ing a rep­u­ta­tion for deftly han­dling political mine­fields like Maratha reser­va­tion and farm dis­tress while es­chew­ing hard­line Hin­dutva po­si­tions, unlike many of his party col­leagues.

Not con­tent to rest on its own or­gan­i­sa­tional strengths, BJP has also un­veiled a strat­egy of woo­ing over pop­u­lar lead­ers and strong­men from NCP and Congress. NCP, which has been push­ing for a 50:50 di­vi­sion of seats with a “lead­er­less” state Congress, will be more wor­ried by the un­end­ing ex­o­dus from its own ranks. With a nar­row lead­er­ship base that mostly draws in­flu­ence from sugar co­op­er­a­tives, those at the helm of Congress and NCP have been in­ef­fec­tive in hold­ing the gov­ern­ment to ac­count for dwin­dling farm in­comes, re­cur­rent droughts and now flood­ing.

In the ab­sence of a cred­i­ble op­po­si­tion, the likes of Prakash Ambed­kar rid­ing on a “van­chit bahu­jan” iden­tity en­com­pass­ing Dal­its, Mus­lims and other de­prived groups have been em­bold­ened to set for­bid­ding terms for an al­liance with Congress-NCP. Yet, given the eco­nomic slump, there is no room for BJP to be com­pla­cent de­spite its suc­cess in eat­ing into vote shares of the three other big par­ties. Win­ning Ma­ha­rash­tra, In­dia’s sec­ond largest state by pop­u­la­tion and largest by GDP, is im­por­tant for all sides. But BJP’s undi­min­ish­ing ap­petite for suc­cess makes it the odds-on favourite.

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