Once a Congress bastion, Maharashtra set to become a saffron fortress

Election Commission has announced the dates for Maharashtra elections. The polls will be held on 21st of October and results declared on 24th of October. The Maharashtra assembly tenor ends on 7th of November. BJP is hoping to repeat its 2019 Lok Sabha election performance, where together with its ally Shiv Sena, it was leading in 227 assembly constituencies.

Maharashtra has been a Congress strong hold since independence….

  • 1967 is considered as the first assault on the dominance of Congress in Indian political space. Non-Congress governments were formed in 9 out of 21 states. However, in Maharashtra, party won 203 out of 270 seats in 1967 state elections. Vasantrao Naik became the only Chief Minister in state’s history to have been voted back to power.


  • In the aftermath of Emergency, in 1977, when the first non-Congress government was installed in the centre, party lost many state elections. It did witness a crisis in Maharashtra but not of the same magnitude as in many north Indian states. In a hung assembly situation in 1978, the two Congress factions (one led by Indira and other by Yashwant Rao Chavan) joined hands to keep Janata Party out of power. However, Sharad Pawar led faction broke ranks and joined Janata Party to become Chief Minister within five months. In 1980 Congress stormed back to power.


  • During 1989-1990, the country was gripped with Mandal (OBC reservation) and Kamandal (Ram Lalla) movement. Janata Dal and BJP won elections in many states like UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, MP, Karnataka to name a few. However, the Congress managed to hold onto the state winning 141 out of 288 seats. Only in 1995, the BJP-Sena alliance managed to win after communal riots in early 1990s. Then from 1999-2014, Congress and NCP ruled the state for 15 years.

However, BJP has made significant inroads with ally Shiv Sena

In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, BJP along with ally Shiv Sena, riding on Modi factor, anti-corruption plank and anti-incumbency against 10-year old UPA government at the centre, swept 42 out of 48 seats in the state.

In the state elections which followed six months later, BJP emerged as the single largest party riding on popularity of Modi, feel good factor of central government and strong anti-incumbency against 15-year old Congress-NCP government. Post elections, BJP joined hands with Sena, with which it had divorced just before the polls, to form the government.

In a repeat of 2014 Lok Sabha elections, NDA swept the state again in 2019 general elections. Main factors responsible for the astounding victory were strong image of Modi, nationalism fervor after Balakot air strikes, schemes implemented by the Modi government for the upliftment of poor and downtrodden, listless opposition and satisfaction of people of the state with the development work carried out by Fadnavis government.

Currently, BJP controls more than 80% of the urban local self-government units in the state and nearly 60% of the fully urban Vidhan Sabha constituencies. Devendra Fadnavis is only the second chief minister to complete 5 years in office.

Even when Congress-NCP alliance was winning in the state, its vote share kept on declining from 49.6% in 1999 to 39.8% in 2004 and 37.4% in 2009 vidhansabha elections highlighting the gradual reduction in support base.

How was this achieved by BJP?

  1. a) Desertion of Maratha voters from INC-NCP to BJP-Sena

The Marathas accounting for 30% of state population have dominated the politics of the state for decades. 10 out 17 chief ministers of the state have been from the community. Congress was the dominant party and Marathas the dominant caste. The rich and upper class of the community has always been closer to the corridors of power.They formed the backbone of Congress and later NCP’s support structure.

Source: CSDS Reports

In 2014, BJP sprung a surprise by installing a Brahmin CM at the cost of angering the Marathas. However, the decision to provide 16% reservation to Marathas in government jobs and technical institutes has helped to soothen their nerves. The poor and middle-class Marathas had already moved to the Sena and the BJP, now even the upper class was left with no choice. Top Maratha leaders have switched loyalties. Three of Shivaji descendants – Chhatrapati SambhajiRaje, Shivendra Raje Bhosale, Udayanraje Bhosale – have joined the BJP, while Congress party’s leader in assembly Radhakrishna Patil also joined the party along with his son.

  1. b) BJP successfully building a social coalition of Upper Caste plus OBCs

BJP has always been a party backed by urban voters, traders, white collar sections and Brahmins. The party won 53 out of 100 urban seats in 2014 state elections bagging 35% vote share. With Marathas firmly behind the Congress, BJP eyed the OBCs in early 1990s. It developed leaders from the community like Gopinath Munde, Parange, Dange, Eknath Khadse etc. Its support for OBC reservations helped the party establish a strong base.

Along with upper caste, OBCs account for 26% of population. Modi belongs to OBC community and this has further cemented party’s position with the group. With Marathas also veering towards the party as it fulfilled their long pending demand of reservations, BJP has now a catchment vote bank of 60% of state’s population. Nationally, a section of SCs and STs have also moved to the BJP, further strengthening its position and broadening its social base. 53% Dalits and 34% Adivasis voted for NDA in general elections 2019.

  1. c) NCP reduced to Western Maharashtra and rocked by scams

Sharad Pawar’sNCP has been reduced to a Western Maharashtra party. It won almost half of its tally in 2014 state elections from this region (19/40). The mood against dynasty politics in the nation has not helped the Pawar family. 65% respondents in India Today Mood of the Nation survey for general elections stated that dynasty politics is over in India. It has lost its utility in Maharashtra’s cooperative sector that it once controlled and drew its strength from.

Further, the name of family members has been embroiled in scams and controversies. Both Sharad Pawar and nephew AjitPawar have been named in25,000 crore money laundering case. NCP leader and ex Deputy CM Chagan Bhujbal was jailed in a corruption case and is currently out on bail. Additionally, the party is facing heat from BJP in its stronghold. Western Maharashtra is second only to Mumbai-Thane region in urbanization. It is relatively well offcompared to other regions. BJP won 25 out of 70 seats in the region in 2014 state elections.NCP is fighting an existential crisis.

To sum up, the exodus of leaders from NCP-INC in hoards to BJP and Sena has also provided a boost to saffron alliance fortunes. Once a Congress bastion, Maharashtra is set become a saffron fortress as NDA is expected to win the state elections with a thumping majority as per opinion polls.

Image Credit: Indiatoday


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