Between June 2022 and July 2023, Maharashtra’s two major regional parties – the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party – broke up, with the rebel factions joining hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The Lok Sabha results appear to show that public sentiment has sided with the parent parties at the receiving end of the split – Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena and the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party. Both of them were part of a government with the Congress that was dislodged in 2022 following the rebellion.

Of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party has won eight seats of the 10 it contested. By contrast, the faction led by his nephew Ajit Pawar has won one of the five it contested.

Similarly, Uddhav Thackeray’s Sena has won nine of the 17 seats it contested. The Sena faction led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde won seven of the 15 seats it contested.

Of the 13 seats where both factions of Shiv Sena were in direct contest, Eknath Shinde’s Shiv Sena won seven seats, and Uddhav Thackeray’s party six seats. In one of those seats, Mumbai Northwest, Shinde’s Sena managed a narrow win by 48 votes.

In the two seats where both the factions of Nationalist Congress Party’ contested against each other, Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party made a clean sweep, trouncing his nephew Ajit Pawar’s candidates.

The alliance of Congress, Thackeray’s Sena and Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party, too, has done better than the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance, winning 30 seats as against its rival’s tally of 17. The Congress is the largest single party in Maharashtra with 13 seats. Congress rebel Vishal Patil, who won Sangli as an independent, is likely to join the fold, taking the tally to 31.

The BJP has been decimated in 23 seats it won in the 2019 elections. In at least 14 seats that it won in the 2019 election, it lost by a huge margin.

The poor performance of the rebel factions and of the BJP indicates that even Prime minister Narendra Modi’s popularity could not help them against the massive sympathy wave for Thackeray and Pawar senior.

Party identity ‘stolen’

In June 2022, Thane Shiv Sena leader Shinde had revolted and split his party vertically, taking away 41 state legislators and 13 members of Parliament. His rebellion dislodged the three-member Maha Vikas Aghadi government, with Shinde becoming the chief minister with the BJP’s support.

Several residents remember Uddhav Thackeray’s humiliating exit from the chief minister’s official residence in 2022, wearing a neck-support collar for his spine ailment, his helpers carrying his suitcase. “People sympathised with him for what happened back then,” said Mayur Jain, a Yuva Sena leader.

A year later, in July 2023, Ajit Pawar rebelled, leading to a split within Nationalist Congress Party. Ajit Pawar took 41 state legislators and one of the two party MPs with him to join the BJP-Shinde alliance.

His uncle, party founder Sharad Pawar, now aged 84, evoked similar sympathy. The veteran leader threw himself into the election campaign, often addressing three to four rallies a day as he vigorously criss-crossed the state.

On Tuesday, Pawar addressed the media and said he was not surprised by gains of the Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance. “What they [BJP] did to break the party, the wrong methods they adopted… people have shown them the reaction to it,” he said. “Unko jo sabak sikhane ki zarurat thi, wo aam janata ne hi sikha di.” The common people have taught them a lesson.

During the campaign, several leaders from Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena told voters how Shinde had stolen their election symbol and party name. Thackeray, in his rallies, reiterated the need to teach the Shinde Sena a lesson for betraying him.

The appeals seem to have resonated with voters. Aaditya Thackeray, heading the Yuva Sena, took to X, formerly Twitter, on Tuesday night to reiterate how the party founded by his grandfather was forced to start from scratch with a new symbol and new name. The people’s vote reflected the love they have for the Thackeray family, he said.

Political observer Harish Wankhede told Scroll that Uddhav Thackeray was able to prove his might in Mumbai where the party swept three out of four seats it contested. “They proved they are the real Shiv Sena,” he said.

In 2019, all six Mumbai seats were won by the BJP-Sena alliance. This time, the Maha Vikas Aghadi has claimed four seats, while the Opposition Mahayuti alliance managed a win in two.

What went against the Mahayuti alliance?

Both the rebel factions together contested 20 seats and managed to win eight or 40% of seats they contested. Shinde and Ajit Pawar were unable to establish a pan-Maharashtra presence. By contrast, Uddhav Thackeray’s and Sharad Pawar’s parties contested 27 seats and won 17 – 63% of seats they contested.

Wankhede said that neither of the rebel parties did enough to campaign and win the election. “Shinde only did well on his home turf,” Wankhede said. “He was an important alliance partner but failed to deliver.”

Shinde was able to secure a lead in his home seats of Thane and Kalyan, apart from Maval, Aurangabad and Buldhana. In Mumbai North West and Hatkanangale, its victory margin was low. These are also the seats where he was in direct contest with the Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena faction. In addition, voter confusion about election symbols may have benefited Shinde.

Ajit Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party suffered losses in four out of five seats, winning only the Raigad seat.

A worker of the Shinde-led Shiv Sena told Scroll that the cadres of the three parties of the Mahayuti alliance did not work together, as they smarted over differences in seat allocation. Shinde announced party candidates late in several seats.

Wankhede said that residents voted on three factors: the demand by the Maratha community for reservations in educational institutions and government jobs, the issue of social justice and the need to safeguard the Constitution from the changes that some BJP leaders had spoken of.

In Maharashtra, the BJP also lost its goodwill by splitting the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party. “People once considered the BJP more ethical than other political parties,” Wankhede said. “But the split in Sena and NCP has changed that perception.”