Why BJP bombed in Maharashtra

09 June,2024 07:45 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Rajendra B. Aklekar

Manhandling of Maratha reservation, ban on onion export, and marriages of convenience to Raj Thackeray and Ajit Pawar toyed with voter’s trust

The Onion market at Pimpalgaon soon after the export ban was lifted on May 4. The NDA failed to understand the economic ramifications of the ban state’s economy as well as local businesses. File pic/Ashish Raje

More so in Maharashtra, it is time for introspection for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Their elaborate political strategies in the state were so self-destructive that of the 28 seats they contested this year, BJP won just nine. In the 2014 and 2019 polls, the party won 23 seats; this drop to just nine seats within a span of five years is one of the worst political strike rates.

Ironically, the BJP had sitting MPs as central rank ministers in the constituencies it lost, who could have easily solved issues if they had kept their ear to the ground. Three union ministers - Raosaheb Danve, Bharati Pawar, and Kapil Patil - failed to gauge public mood.

Nivrutti Nayahrakar at Pimpalgaon's Baswant onion market. File pic/Ashish Raje

Besides ignoring or only paying lip-service to the Maratha reservation issue and the onion crop crisis, the party's myopic strategies failed. Voters were also disillusioned by the bribing-and-poaching of MPs-MLAs under Operation Lotus, and divisive Marathi-Gujarati politics. And all of this was garnished by partnering with Raj Thackeray, which alienated north Indian voters. mid-day deep dives into the five key reasons that brought on BJP's downfall in the state.

Maratha reservation

This factor led to BJP's decimation specifically in the Marathwada region, which comprises eight Lok Sabha constituencies of Nanded, Latur, Aurangabad, Jalna, Beed, Parbhani, Hingoli, and Osmanabad. Of these, four seats - Nanded, Jalna, Beed, and Latur - were with BJP, and Aurangabad with Shiv Sena (Eknath Shinde).

BJP candidate from Ghatkopar, Mihir Kotecha, was positioned as a key player with the growing Gujrati-Marathi divide. File pic/Shadab Khan

Not a single BJP candidate won here. It lost all four seats, including high profile seats such as Beed where Pankaja Munde contested, and Jalna where union minister and five-time MP Raosaheb Danve held the seat. In her speech, Munde taunted Maratha quota activist Manoj Jarange Patil saying reservations cannot be achieved by fasts and protests, which triggered widespread reactions in the Maratha community.

The anger was specifically targeted at the BJP, and not its supporter, Shinde Sena; The latter's candidate, Sandipan Bhumare, won Aurangabad.

"It was [Devendra] Fadnavis as CM who had got the Maratha reservation," Bhumare had said, "but the Uddhav government could not implement it. No chief minister has done this in 75 years despite being Maratha. Only Fadanavis got this done, but he is still being opposed which means Jarange Patil is acting on the opposition's script."

The Maratha reservation burned through any goodwill that the BJP had earned in Marathwada , which was evident in the march by Jarange Patil on Republic Day this year. File pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

On Danve's defeat, his close aide Maharashtra minister and MLA from Sillod, Abdul Sattar, said: "I tried to help Danve wholeheartedly, but my workers were disgruntled with him. Also, he could not keep public contact."

Operation Lotus

This was basically the move of bribing and poaching MPs and MLAs from other parties. It cultivated an atmosphere of mistrust and led to the collapse of the entire polity, especially in NCP head Sharad Pawar's bastion of western Maharashtra. In addition to splitting parties, threats of investigation by ED (Enforcement Directorate), CBI, and Income Tax muddied the party's reputation.

Western Maharashtra comprises 10 seats - Baramati, Shirur, Sangli, Kolhapur, Madha, Solapur, Satara, Hatkanangle, Pune, and Maval - of which the Maha Vikas Aghadi held six seats. "The split within the Pawar family for the Baramati Lok Sabha constituency," explains a political analyst, "and the sympathy wave for Uddhav after he lost his party and symbol, were all consequences of Operation Lotus."

Despite the obvious show of support from the NDA to Raj Thackeray, his inclusion in the coalition seemed to have alienated the north Indian vote. File pic/Rane Ashish; (right) Eknath Shinde was sworn in as Chief Minister 2022. The BJP will have a tough road ahead as the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) will have to fight for every inch of ground during sate elections in October. File pic/Ashish Raje

Onion crisis

The ban on the export of onion in favour of bolstering the domestic market sparked huge losses to the entire supply chain. Labourers, farmers, exporters, and businessmen were all affected. Further lifting of the ban in Gujarat hit the BJP hard. As a result, Hemant Godse (MVA), the two-time sitting MP from Nashik lost his seat to first time Lok Sabha contestant and former MLA, Rajabhau Waje (Sena-UBT). "A single ban and the entire supply chain went for a toss," trader Pravin Kadam said. "Ironically, when farmers in Maharashtra were suffering, the government lifted the ban on export in Gujarat, which led to more anger."

The Marathi-Gujarati divide

This particular issue took Mumbaikars by storm, with some cases and controversies being reported till the eve of the elections and eventually reflecting in constituencies such as north east Mumbai.

BJP candidate Kapil Patil celebrates after Lok Sabha election results at Bhiwandi in 2019. He lost his seat during these elections. Pic/Getty Images

Sources said it possibly affected the electorate's mandate leading to more Marathi candidates. Factors such as a LinkedIn ad for a graphic designer that mentioned Marathis are not welcome; reports of housing societies not allowing Marathis and constant commentary by Sena (UBT) that industries from the state were being diverted to Gujarat ran an undercurrent of polarisation. Sena (UBT) also alleged that workers carrying Sanjay Dina Patil's (northeast Mumbai Lok Sabha candidate) Marathi pamphlets were not allowed in a Gujarati housing society in Ghatkopar. "Yes," Sena (UBT) leader Sanjay Raut said, "BJP tried to create a divide, but voters showed their opinion in the ballot box. We shall consolidate and show them which one is the real Shiv Sena."

Raj Thackeray factor

Raj Thackery could not help the BJP even in the MNS stronghold of Nashik. Incumbent two-time MP, Hemant Godse, lost to Sena (UBT) candidate Rajabhau Waje. In Mumbai, Mahayuti won only two seats, with Ravindra Waikar scraping through with a slender margin of 48 votes in northwest Mumbai.

Raosaheb Danve is one of the four lost seats by the BJP and held the minister of state for railways. File pic/Ashish Raje

Raj's 360-degree turn at the Gudi Padwa speech at Shivaji Park left the party cadre upset and the voter base confused. He said the last hope for Marathi ‘asmita' (pride) and Maharashtra had fallen, which alienated BJP's north Indian voters. North Indian Hindus form the second largest voter base, after Marathi-speakers, numbering about 22 lakh. "Thackeray has publicly spoken against north Indians," says a political observer, "and his party has been involved in drives to throw them out of Mumbai. The north Indian voter would obviously have been wary about Maharashtra Navnirman Sena aligning with the BJP."

Will this affect Assembly polls?

With the state elections just three months away, the BJP will be in heavy damage control mode, and the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) will try to strengthen its hold and further consolidate voters.

Sanjay Patil, political analyst; Sandeep Pradhan, Senior Assistant Editor, Lokmat; Sanjay Raut has been vocal about NDA's attempt to create rifts between Marathi and Gujarati populous, a point he drove home in his MVA rally in Borivali, this May. File pic/Anurag Ahire

The BJP will either open communication to remain connected with the people, woo Marathas, or dislodge the MVA again by taking apart its partners. The next three months will be no less than the plot of a potboiler.

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