(Photo: PTI)
(Photo: PTI)

Opinion | Crucial week for ‘yuti’ and ‘aghadi’ in Maharashtra

The challenge before Cong- NCP combine is to reclaim the oppn space ceded to Sena

Maharashtra, which sends 48 members to Lok Sabha, will vote in the second, third and fourth phases of the general election on 18, 23 and 29 April, respectively.

BJP has succeeded in keeping its alliance (yuti ) with Shiv Sena and other smaller parties like Ramdas Athawale’s Republican Party of India (A) and Mahadev Jankar’s Rashtriya Samaj Paksha. Raju Shetti’s Swabhimani Paksha left NDA in 2017. This time, it is contesting two seats with the support of Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) combine (aghadi).

In 2014, the BJP-led alliance won 42 out of 48 seats in the state. BJP got 23 and the Shiv Sena 18. The Congress-NCP combine was reduced to six seats, with Congress getting two and NCP four. It was a historic low for Congress.

The Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh led by Prakash Ambedkar and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) led by Owaisi brothers, have joined hands to launch Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA). It hopes to get votes, mainly from scheduled castes, Muslims and certain backward castes, which have a significant population in some pockets of Maharashtra. On ground, VBA will help the BJP-Shiv Sena-RPI alliance by undercutting the traditional Congress-NCP base and polarizing Hindu upper caste votes.

These elections would probably be the last chance for NCP’s revival. Its septuagenarian chief Sharad Pawar, brewing succession issues in his family, shrinking agriculture and rural cooperative sectors in Maharashtra which used to be its stronghold, BJP’s aggressive efforts to woo prominent Maratha leaders and ongoing investigations against its prominent leaders, are some of the major challenges faced by the party.

The Congress-led combine is hoping for a strong comeback in the backdrop of a receding Modi wave, unfulfilled promise of acche din, shoddy implementation of demonetization and GST, drought, agriculture and rural distress in large parts of the state, unresolved reservation issues, and lack-lustre performance by some incumbents.

Probably the greatest challenge in front of the Congress-NCP combine is to reclaim the opposition space ceded to Shiv Sena in the last five years. Shiv Sena, while sharing power with BJP in the centre and the state, succeeded in projecting itself as an opposition party because of its caustic and consistent attacks against the Modi government’s policies.

After the announcement of the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance for the polls, the void in the opposition space became clearly visible. Raj Thackeray, chief of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) is desperately trying to fill this void. His party is not contesting Lok Sabha elections, but Thackeray appears to be a star campaigner for the opposition parties. So far, Raj Thackeray has made scathing attacks against PM Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah in his speeches. He has succeeded in pulling large crowds, but whether he will succeed in increasing the Congress-NCP vote share is still not clear.

Anay Joglekar is a Mumbai-based political commentator who writes on politics and foreign affairs and is a columnist for Marathi newspapers.

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