Opinion | Lok Sabha Result Was A Teaser. Expect More Plot Twists In Maharashtra

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The Lok Sabha election results in Maharashtra have caused an upheaval in the state's political arena. While the INDIA bloc won 30 seats here - a gain of 21 - the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) could bag just 17, a loss of 20 over last time after adjusting for MPs aligned with Shiv Sena and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) factions. In terms of vote share, both alliances received around 44% support. 

If we consider assembly leads, the Maha Vikas Aghadi, or the MVA, was ahead in over 150 seats, comfortably ahead of the majority mark of 145. In the current assembly, the Mahayuti, comprising the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena, and the Ajit Pawar-led NCP has 205 MLAs. In contrast, the opposition front of the Congress, the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena, and the Sharad Pawar-led NCP has 73 assembly leaders. The Lok Sabha election results, indicating wide frustration with 'jod-tod' or patchwork politics, have clearly put the BJP on the back foot given that the assembly election in the state is just months away. To add to the party's worries, in 15 direct face-offs in the state between the BJP and the Congress, the latter won 11 seats.

'Political Blunder'?

The BJP recently conducted a stock-taking meeting in Delhi, where Devendra Fadnavis offered to resign from the Deputy Chief Minister's post and instead help with strengthening the party organisation ahead of the assembly elections. Separately, in a recent article in Organiser, the mouthpiece of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Ratan Sharda, an RSS ideologue, criticised the induction of Ajit Pawar's NCP faction into the state government, arguing that it caused discontent among BJP workers. Sharda squarely termed it a "political blunder" on the part of the BJP. 

That's not entirely off the mark. The cadres of the BJP and the NCP cadre have been at loggerheads for long, especially in Western Maharashtra. The alliance seemed unnatural to many, incapable of functioning smoothly on the ground. Also, the Ajit-led NCP could win just one of the four seats allotted to it, while Sharad Pawar's faction secured eight of the 10 seats it contested, clearly underlining who the real boss is. Almost a quarter of the pre-split NCP' voters, comprising significant number of minorities, seem to have stayed with Sharad Pawar. 

More Criss-Crossing Likely

Rubbing salt into the wound, Rohit Pawar, the grand-nephew of Sharad Pawar, has said that around 18-19 MLAs of the NCP are in touch with him and Sharad Pawar himself, and that they will cross over to the parent party after the monsoon session of legislature. 

Meanwhile, the Shinde faction of the Shiv Sena won seven of the 15 seats it contested. Its strike rate was almost 50%, even better than the BJP's. But while the BJP was able to transfer its votes to Sena due to a long-standing alliance, the Shinde faction's votes didn't seamlessly transfer to the BJP as Uddhav Thackeray still held sway over a majority of Sena's traditional voters. This led to a big loss for the BJP, wherein it had to part with 17 of the 23 seats it won in 2019.

A few members of the Uddhav-led Shiv Sena also claim that around five to six legislators of the Shinde faction are in touch with them. It's most likely that both Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar would happily welcome back most of the rebel MLAs - except Shinde and Ajit Pawar - should they wish to make a gharwapasi. There are also reports that Chhagan Bhujbal, upset with the denial of a Rajya Sabha nomination, may leave NCP and switch to Uddhav's side. 

Seat-Sharing Troubles

Both Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar have clearly emerged as the winners in the legacy battles for their respective parties. The BJP, which suffered massive losses in Marathwada and Vidarbha regions due to the Maratha agitation and agricultural distress, seems to be fighting with its back to the wall. It is likely to use this opportunity to bargain hard with both its alliance partners over seat distribution for the upcoming assembly polls. With a target of winning 152 seats on its own, the BJP would need to fight on a minimum of 200 seats, leaving 40 each for its two partners. While the NCP has 40 MLAs backing the NDA government, the Shiv Sena has 38.

This factor could trigger an exodus from the two rebel factions to Uddhav's Shiv Sena or Sharad Pawar's NCP. Also, the fact that some MLAs from both camps may now be worried about their winnability under the NDA banner could further hasten that possible exodus. Also, the 'Modi factor' that helped the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls may not be very helpful in the state battle. 

A few MLAs, on the other hand, may choose to wait and watch. The MVA, too, is not immune to ticket distribution struggles given the fact that Uddhav's party has shown the lowest strike rate despite contesting on the maximum number of seats. The Congress, being the largest partner, may flex its muscles to get more seats. The BJP, in any case, is hoping that the alliance will dwindle before the state polls. 

The Lok Sabha results have thus set the stage for more somersaults in Maharashtra, with all the elements of a heady Bollywood potboiler. 

(Amitabh Tiwari is a political strategist and commentator. In his earlier avatar, he was a corporate and investment banker.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author