Overcoming widespread anger over agrarian distress and the demand for Maratha reservation, the ruling alliance of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena is poised to sweep Maharashtra in a repeat of 2014.
As of 2 pm, the alliance led on 41 of the 48 seats, with their lead margins exceeding two lakh on 19 seats, spread across urban and rural areas. In 2014, the alliance won 42 seats.
Retaining all six seats in Mumbai, the alliance has made advances in Marathwada’s Nanded, western Maharashtra’s Kolhapur, Madha and Hatkanangale and Konkan’s Palghar. It has retained its hold over Vidarbha as well.
Most constituencies have delivered decisive verdicts. By 2 pm, only eight seats had lead margins under one lakh and just two of those – Hingoli in Marathwada, Raigad in Konkan – were still in doubt, with margins of around 2,000 each.
Once again, Maharashtra’s voters seem to have chosen the party over the candidate. The BJP had dropped sitting MPs in favour of new faces on nine seats and seems set to win them all, many with larger margins. Pritam Munde, who won her late father Gopinath Munde’s stronghold of Beed virtually uncontested in a 2014 bye-election, is leading by around 1.36 lakh voters.
The Shiv Sena, which spent most of the last two years strongly criticising its Hindutva ally, appears set to add two seats to its 2014 tally even though it might lose two to four of the seats it won five years ago. Union minister Hansraj Ahir of the BJP is likely to lose Chandrapur to Baburao Dhanorkar of the Congress, despite the Sena’s support. This might strain the Sena’s ties and reduce its bargaining power with the BJP.
Senior Sena leader Anandrao Adsul is in a close contest with Navneet Rana, a Telugu film actor who is contesting as an independent from Amravati with support from the Nationalist Congress Party.
The results show the Opposition failed to convert widespread anger over agricultural distress, unemployment, caste violence and reservation into votes. The last five years saw a series of protests in Maharashtra – for Maratha reservation, implementation of the Forest Rights Act and farm loan waivers, and against attacks on Dalits at Bhima Koregaon.
At the time, many political observers attributed the Marathas’ agitation over farm distress and demand for reservation to the Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar. Yet, Pawar’s party and its ally, the Congress, have repeated their dismal 2014 performances, with the state Congress chief Ashok Chavan set to lose his Nanded seat, which he had retained in 2014. The Congress might also lose the only other seat it won in 2014, Hingoli, even as it is likely to win Chandrapur in Vidarbha, taking its tally to possibly one.
In March, an audio recording of Chavan claiming to have no control over the party’s candidate selection in Vidarbha went viral, leading to allegations that he was not fit to lead the Congress in Maharashtra.
The National Congress Party has fared marginally better. While it is likely to concede Kolhapur to the Shiv Sena and Madha to the BJP, the party has retained Supriya Sule’s Baramati and Udayanraje Bhosale’s Satara, and added Shirur to its belt. It is also hotly contesting Raigad with the Sena.
Parth Pawar, grand nephew of Sharad Pawar, is trailing the Shiv Sena’s sitting MP Shrirang Barne by nearly 1.5 lakh voter. At his father Ajit Pawar’s insistence, Parth Pawar was fielded from Maval despite his lack of experience and Sharad Pawar’s reluctance.
Prakash Ambedkar’s attempt to open up a third front in the state with his Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi has largely failed. Ambedkar himself is trailing in second place in Akola and is a distant third in Solapur, behind the BJP and the veteran Congressman Sushilkumar Shinde. The only candidate who is likely to win from the alliance led by Ambedkar is the All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen’s Imtiaz Jaleel. He is going strong in Aurangabad, which he currently represents in the Assembly.
Talks to include the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi’s coalition in the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance fell through in February because of disagreements over the sharing of seats as well as ideological differences. While Ambedkar’s party demanded a concrete action plan against the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Congress was reluctant to ally with the Majlis. Eventually, the Congress contested 25 seats and its ally 19, while the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi alliance contested all 48 seats. They are likely to have eaten into each other’s vote shares.