An astounding 7,666 nominations had been filed for the state assembly elections as of Saturday, the last day to do so. The figure is huge considering there are 288 assembly constituencies, giving an average of nearly 27 candidates in each assembly segment. This response can be attributed to the major political upheaval in the state, which saw parties from two major coalitions severing ties with each other.
From 1990, constituencies were distributed among political parties. First, it was between the Shiv Sena and the BJP, which forged an alliance to provide an alternative to the Congress. Later, in 1999, the Congress and the NCP came together, further demarcating the allocation of assembly constituencies. Slowly, the situation led to political stagnation — in which Congress workers did not see any future in constituencies NCP had and vice-versa. A similar situation arose among Shiv Sena and BJP workers. With the political alliances permeating all the way to the civic body elections, almost two to three generations of activists perished. This led to further disenchantment among activists, as senior and well-established leaders turned their constituencies into fiefdoms and started promoting their family members. The situation became so serious that the Congress and NCP are still not ready to admit that a majority of their political workers and their family members did not vote for their respective party candidates in the Lok Sabha polls.
When both the alliances turned to dust, this disillusioned lot of political workers were the biggest beneficiaries. Parties were virtually hunting for faces that could win in constituencies they had never fought in (Congress-NCP fought the 2004 and 2009 general elections and the Sena-BJP contested the last five general elections as an alliance). Poaching of ‘good’ candidates was so rampant that some were approached by more than two parties to contest on their tickets. A glance at the lists of candidates of the five political parties — Congress, NCP, BJP, Shiv Sena and MNS — reveals how they had to ‘import’ candidates.
The real picture will be clear on October 1, the last of date for withdrawal of candidature. The fight for the state assembly might become a battle for revenge. There is a strong sense of bitterness in the way the four major parties parted ways. The NCP is fuming against the Congress, and against CM Prithviraj Chavan in particular, because, as they claim, there was a systematic effort to defame NCP’s leaders and weaken the party base. NCP’s list of candidates sports Congress candidates with strong clout in their regions who had been denied tickets by their own party. It is common knowledge that Congress and NCP leaders enjoy good support from the cooperatives and educational institutions run by them. With the split, they are going to rob well-nurtured votebanks from each other. The NCP will, with a streak of vengeance, seek to weaken the Congress by ensuring its candidates lose.
For the Sena, the BJP’s decision to quit the 25-year long alliance is a double blow. First, the BJP wants to cash in on PM Narendra Modi by denting the Hindutva vote bank. Secondly, the four smaller parties, such as Ramdas Athawale-led RPI(A), MP Raju Shetty-led Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, Mahado Jankar-led Rashtriya Samaj Paksha and Vinayak Mete-led Shiv Sangram decided to continue their alliance with the BJP.
However the Sena’s decision to project its party chief Uddhav Thackeray as chief minister with its Mission-150 campaign was a calculated move, in anticipation of a break-up with the BJP. The Sena was so prepared that it fielded 286 candidates within just two days. The BJP, too, was all set to fly solo, allotting 31 seats to alliance partners, and retaining 257 for its candidates, immediately after the marriage dissolved. But, even BJP could not find faces for the constituencies it had never contested in the last 25 years. Hence, the party brought in candidates from the Sena, Congress and NCP.
Attacking the BJP’s pan-India ideology and the Gujarati roots of PM Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah, the Sena is going to harp on its old ‘Mumbai and Maharashtra for Marathi people’ agenda. To strengthen its case, the Sena will launch a tirade against the BJP, because both the parties share a common vote bank.
In any case, the state is going to witness a very interesting political battle.
The writer is Political Editor of mid-day