Over to you, Devendra Fadnavis
Following the overwhelming Lok Sabha win, CM Devendra Fadnavis set for a leadership test in the October Assembly elections. Will he be able to repeat Parliamentary show?
On May 23, Devendra Fadnavis was absolutely frank in admitting that the overwhelming Lok Sabha verdict has put BJP leaders like him under immense pressure to deliver. Fadnavis was speaking in the capacity of Maharashtra chief minister, who will face the Assembly polls in October. He said the trust that the voters showed in Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP government in the state would give him sleepless nights, not because of the fear factor that the 'decimated' Opposition would somehow try to create in run-up to the Assembly polls, but because of the high expectations that people have from the BJP.
Along with Modi, Fadnavis too was the Opposition's prime target in the campaign, which ultimately did not impress upon the voters. This provides Fadnavis great relief. Also, the arithmetic and voting pattern in the Lok Sabha elections helped him predict the BJP's return to power and ally Shiv Sena's comeback as the second single largest party after the BJP. So, Fadnavis should be looking forward to plugging the gaps that he sees in the May 23 results. Previous electoral showdowns established that national and state elections were different when it comes to the poll planks, sharing of seats and selection of candidates. As constituencies become smaller in Assembly polls (generally a Lok Sabha seat has six Assembly segments), the issues become more intricate. Local issues play hard and good candidates decide the fate
of the parties and alliances they represent.
Seat-sharing the key
The saffron alliance, which was re-stitched ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, would continue in the Assembly's 288 seats. Of 25 Lok Sabha seats the BJP won 23. The Shiv Sena won 18 out of 23 seats. The seat-sharing was easier because the two had fought the 2014 Lok Sabha elections together. The exchange of seats and candidates was done quickly and smartly, thanks to Fadnavis and Sena president Uddhav Thackeray, who did not bicker even as their respective party leaders fought like enemies.
The Lok Sabha poll results show that the BJP got more than 61 per cent votes in four seats and polled more than 50 per cent in 12 seats. It got less than 50 per cent in only seven seats. It has claimed more than 40 per cent votes in the two seats – Baramati and Chandrapur – it lost. BJP polled around 1.5 crore votes and could add only 17 lakh more votes to its 2014 share of 1.33 crore votes. The Sena gained much more with 1.25 crore votes, 25 lakh more than its 2014's one lakh surplus.
This statistics will have a bearing on the way the allies share seats, especially where they were in straight fights in 2014. It is said that the two will share equally the 288 Assembly seats, and part with quota for allies from their individual shares. BJP has 122 winners in the present Assembly, while Sena has just 63. So, one should see BJP taking a cautious approach in the sharing business because it wants to be in a commanding position as the single largest party.
The VBA factor
Maharashtra's Lok Sabha contests threw many a surprise. While the Congress staged its worst-ever performance and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) barely managed its 2014 figure, a new entrant Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) – a conglomerate of smaller parties such as Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, AIMIM and others – walked away with a 14 per cent vote share. It also won a seat in Aurangabad for an AIMIM nominee. Accused of playing a team 'B' to the BJP, VBA ensured the fall of the Congress-NCP combine in at least 12 seats. But it also helped Congress' only winner in Chandrapur. VBA would definitely be on Fadnavis's mind when he deliberates in the war-room. Equations in the Opposition camp would change if VBA decides to forge an alliance with the like-minded major parties (read Congress, not NCP).
Since the pitch that plays the Assembly game would be different than the Lok Sabha, Fadnavis has a task in hand. BJP received a good response from the urban population. But contrary to the Opposition's expectations, the BJP emerged as a favourite in the rural areas as well, despite Fadnavis being called out for 'failed' farm policy and drought mitigation. Showing a trend that other states had on display, Maharashtra too blurred issues like caste politics, religious and communal divide, identities associated with ethnicity, regionalism and linguistic status. Nationalism overshadowed the Opposition's anti-Modi rhetoric.
Noticeably, the people also talked about the government's welfare schemes reaching out to them. Fadnavis's contribution in Modi's victory march cannot be denied because he has helmed welfare schemes and infrastructure development in the state. Naturally, the focus has shifted to Fadnavis's governance, which the experts identify with that of Modi's style. Undoubtedly, Fadnavis is the only face of the BJP in Maharashtra and he has earned an image larger than some non-BJP leaders, who have high stakes in national and state politics.
As Assembly elections approach fast, Fadnavis's concern would be to effectively remind the people of the welfare that he claims to have ensured, and also shield the government from the Opposition's narrative that he hasn't been as successful as he claims to be. Modi has set the momentum for Fadnavis. The PM would campaign hard for getting his most favourite CM in the hot seat, yet again. The real challenge for the guru and disciple would be to translate a massive Lok Sabha lead into the bench strength that no other party or alliance has managed to get in the Maharashtra Assembly.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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Devendra Fadnavis enjoys Iftar dinner after win in Elections