As I drove down to the television studio of a news channel in Mumbai on Thursday, I rode over a long flyover in South-Central Mumbai. On one side were vestiges of famous mills that had morphed into malls; on the other were old chawls or tenements and some decrepit buildings—the staple of mill workers and even for some of our ancestors who came to Mumbai. The divide instantly clicked. This was the segment of voters that was in some way left out as Mumbai moved into the mall culture. Spread across large swathes of Mumbai and Thane, this section comprised mostly Maharashtrians who migrated from other parts of the state to make a living. Truly, the Mumbaikar had reason to be disappointed and that clicked for the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).
As the results poured in, it became quite obvious that the MNS had hit the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine hard in about two dozen assembly seats, ending the Sena’s suzerainty over the Marathi heart in the Mumbai-Thane belt. In fact, it stole a march over the Sena in Mumbai. The MNS polled 22% of the votes in Mumbai and pending the final results that were to be declared later Thursday evening, the MNS might have even pushed the Sena a tad below the BJP by eating into its vote. Mumbai, Thane and Konkan—the original fortresses of the Sena-BJP alliance—saw the Congress score. In this region, the Congress won 33 out of the 75 seats, while the Sena-BJP was far behind at 23; MNS won eight seats. The vote share of the MNS in Mumbai was about 20%, while it was 6% at the state level. In Mumbai, the Sena-BJP polled 31% of the votes, while the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) polled 35%.
In northern Maharashtra the Congress-led alliance won in 20 out of 47 seats, ceding the urban areas to the Sena-BJP but retaining its hold over the tribal areas. Along with Marathwada, this is the region of Maharashtra that has large number of farmers with smaller landholdings who have benefited from the loan waiver scheme of the Congress-led regime. Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka together account for close to half of the beneficiaries of the loan waiver scheme. The Sena-BJP vote share was 2 percentage points less than the 33% polled by the Congress alliance. The MNS hurt equations here, too, polling 4% of the votes, mostly in and around Nashik.
Along with the loan waiver, the fact that the chief minister is from Marathwada benefited the Congress-NCP alliance. It won 27 out of 46 seats, leaving the Sena-BJP far behind at 13 in Marathwada. The Congress alliance’s vote share of 42% was 10 percentage points more than the Sena-BJP’s.
The Third Front which started with a bang, ended with a whimper, wining around seven seats, and not altering the assembly results in any big way. In Vidarbha, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) held on to its voters, preventing a Dalit consolidation in favour of the Third Front, a combine of 17 parties. In the latest count, the Congress-led alliance had 29 out of 62 seats in Vidarbha, closely followed by the Sena-BJP with 26 seats. The Third Front and smaller parties won seven seats in the region. Here, the Sena-BJP polled 34% of the vote trailing the Congress-led alliance which polled 36% of the vote.
Western Maharashtra was, however, the place where the declining clout of the Congress-NCP alliance was very obvious. The sugar bowl was known as a Congress stronghold in the past. However, this time the Congress-NCP alliance won just 30 out of 58 seats in the assembly. Smaller parties and independents took 11 seats, while the Sena-BJP alliance won 16 seats. Independents, mainly Congress rebels, polled close to 20% of the votes here and were the major factor causing a setback to the Congress alliance. In Konkan, too, the Sena did not, as expected, have it easy. The exit of Narayan Rane from the Sena and his admission into the Congress seems to have given the Congress a voter-base in this area.
The Congress-NCP alliance won seven out of the 15 seats and the balance accrued to the Sena and the Peasant and Workers Party (PWP), who had a seat adjustment in some districts in Konkan.
A toothless opposition led by a disunited leadership failed to create a political alternative. Thus, though there was a 3% swing away from the Congress, its seat tally went up marginally. The Congress’ vote share declined to 37%. The Sena-BJP’s vote share too dipped by the same margin to 31%. The index of opposition unity against the Congress declined to 48% resulting in a small rise in the tally of the Congress-NCP alliance to 143 seats. Losses in traditional strongholds led to a decline in the seat tally of Sena-BJP from 116 in 2004 to about 93 now.
The message from the voters is very clear: Just being the opposition is not sufficient; you have to project yourself as a credible alternative to get votes. And strategic alliances are a must, at least in our electoral model.
Jai Mrug is a psephologist and independent political analyst.
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