The recently held Zila Parishad and Panchayat Samiti by-elections in Maharashtra had two lessons – one for the BJP and another for the ruling alliance Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA). To the BJP, the election made it clear that it needs a new strategy to counter the MVA alliance in Maharashtra while for the ruling coalition, it had a simple message – stick together if you want to keep the BJP at bay. While the BJP won 22 of the 85 Zilla Parishad seats across six Maharashtra districts, the Congress, the NCP and the Shiv Sena – all constituents of the ruling MVA – bagged 19, 15 and 12 seats, respectively, winning a total of 46 seats. Out of the 144 Panchayat Samiti seats, the Congress won the highest of 36, followed by the BJP at 33, the Shiv Sena at 23 and the NCP, 18 seats. The MVA combined won 73 of the 144 Panchayat Samiti seats.
While political equations change from rural polls to assembly polls, the BJP needs a new social coalition in Maharashtra, says Sangit Kumar Ragi, Professor and Head, Department of Political Science at the University of Delhi.
“The BJP will have to search for new social coalitions in Maharashtra as it did in Uttar Pradesh. They are even trying this, like for the Konkan region, they have taken along Narayan Rane – former CM of Maharashtra and for the Maratha region, except Gopinath Munde, there are many leaders and they (BJP) need a Maratha leader with a pan-Maharashtrian image who can challenge Sharad Pawar. They need to develop this besides grooming the local leadership to bring out new social leaders,” he said.
Ragi says that many political leaders in Maharashtra still want the BJP and Shiv Sena to come together and added it’s not necessary that the results of the local polls reflected the possible outcome of the assembly polls.
“For example, in the 2001 Panchayati raj polls of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the BJP had done well in Zila Parishad polls but when the assembly polls were held, it did not do well. When there was Mayawati’s government in UP, the BJP had done well in municipal polls and it appeared that the saffron party might form the government in the state, but contrary to this, Akhilesh Yadav replaced Mayawati. So, the political equations of local elections are different but one thing is clear that when it comes to Maharashtra politics, many people still want the BJP and Shiv Sena to come together, otherwise, both the parties may suffer heavily in the next assembly polls,” he said.
Ragi also said that if the BJP wants to do well in Maharashtra alone, it needs to take the Hindutva mask off the Shiv Sena’s face.
“In my opinion, the BJP still has a soft corner for Shiv Sena. The BJP needs to uncover the ‘Hindutva’ mask that Shiv Sena is wearing because that is denting the saffron party’s vote bank. The BJP needs to further accentuate and sharpen its Hindutva posturing in Maharashtra and they need to be more critical of the Shiv Sena. If you see, the BJP’s local leadership attacks the Shiv Sena while the Sena attacks the BJP’s national leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, the leaders of the RSS and the national politics of the saffron party. The Shiv Sena is trying to create a larger narrative against the BJP. Unfortunately, the top BJP leadership has not aggressively attacked the Shiv Sena and that needs to be changed,” he claimed.
Maharashtra BJP president Chandrakant Patil, who is presently campaigning for Deglur assembly bypolls, hinted that MVA won the rural polls due to money power.
“Recently, we won an Assembly bypoll (the Pandharpur-Mangalwedha assembly constituency) defeating the MVA candidate. The seat was traditionally theirs. We will win the Deglur bypolls (October 30th) as well. If we talk about Zila Parishad polls, as it gets smaller, the impact of money increases,” said Patil.
He also maintained that local polls are different from assembly polls and the BJP will do well in Vidhan sabha elections.
Whatever the BJP leaders claim, the truth is that Maharashtra has a complex regionalism that drives voters’ political inclination and if the BJP still fails to see Shiv Sena as an opposition party, it may have to warm the opposition benches in Maharashtra Assembly after 2024 polls as well.