The Maharashtra Assembly elections threw up a mild surprise, by giving the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena — known as the Mahayuti —fewer seats than what any of the exit polls had predicted. Not just that, the seat count of the Mahayuti, at the time of going to press, was less than what the two parties had secured in 2014, when they had contested separately.
Despite retaining a strong edge over the majority mark, the Mahayuti lost 24 seats from its kitty, seeing its tally reduced to 161 from 185. The Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) alliance increased its tally from 81 to 98. Independents and smaller parties bagged 29 seats (from 20 earlier).
The unexpected result may be attributed to two regions of the state — the relatively prosperous western region, and drought-prone Vidarbha — both of which turned their back to the Sena and BJP, respectively. However, riding on Mumbai metropolitan region, coastal Konkan and other regions, BJP ensured it's century and subsequent claim to power.
Vidarbha, the home of Chief Minister (CM) Devendra Fadnavis, had given as many as 44 seats to the BJP in 2014. The Congress and NCP, plus independents and smaller parties, snatched 19 seats from the BJP. Fadnavis was a strong advocate of separating Vidarbha from Maharashtra before he became CM.
The Congress, which had won 10 seats in the region in 2014, won 17 this time. The NCP won six, up from a lone seat in 2014. Help has been taken from howindialives.com, an independent data portal, for this analysis. Vidarbha was a traditional stronghold of the Congress, and the sub-region of Bhandara-Gondiya a bastion of NCP leader Praful Patel, a Sharad Pawar confidant. The BJP lost the edge here.
Prashant Gawande, a farmer leader hailing from Vidarbha, said the ignorance of the BJP towards farmers’ issues brought them to this situation. “Voters had started believing that the BJP’s focus lay in urban areas. Wholesale prices of major crops grown in Vidarbha have remained low for a long time, and farmers in the region are politically very aware,” he told Business Standard.
In Western Maharashtra, which comprises Pune, Satara, Sangli, Kolhapur, and Solapur, which is the sugarcane cooperatives and industries belt, the story was different. It caused a dent into the seats of the Shiv Sena — the junior ruling alliance partner. It lost seven seats, which were usurped by the Congress and NCP.
In this region, a sizeable proportion of farmers grow cash crops, and have higher income levels compared to farmers from other regions. Industries allied to agriculture, as well as other small and medium enterprises, are dominant in this region. At the same time, political patronage structures led by Maratha agri-businessmen are strong.
Politically aligned experts from this region said voters were disappointed with the relative lull in business activity over the last few years. There was angst against turncoats, too.
Further, wins for the Opposition in this region came with higher margins, while those by the Mahayuti came with smaller margins. Across three constituencies in and around the Pune urban region, BJP candidates won with a wafer-thin margin of below 3,000 votes. In the three urban seats of Kolhapur city (200 km south of Pune), Congress and NCP candidates trumped Shiv Sena by margins of above 25,000.
The key difference between the 2014 and 2019 elections was that there were no alliances in 2014. All four parties had fought independently, with the anti-incumbency benefitting both the Sena and BJP.
However, political competition in the state and the efficient transfer of votes to respective alliance partners panned out in different ways for the ruling alliance and the Opposition. While the former adversely affected the Mahayuti, the latter helped the Congress alliance.
In 2019, the Congress-NCP alliance contested on 125 seats each, and garnered a smaller vote share as compared to 2014. Yet, the two parties won more seats, showing a clear transfer of votes from one’s support base to another.
While the BJP’s vote share in the state has reduced only marginally, the Sena’s vote share has dropped drastically vis-a-vis its gobble-up in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The Congress fought virtually without a pan-state leader. Sharad Pawar and young leaders from the NCP campaigned hard, mirroring the BJP-Sena campaigns.