The election season in Maharashtra is heating up. The last date for filing of nominations has ended on 4th of October. With alliances in place, parties and candidates have begun their campaign. While BJP and Sena put up a united front keeping aside the contentious issue of Chief Minister, Congress is grappling with internal fighting and washing dirty linen in the public.
Former Mumbai chief of party Sanjay Nirupam has gone on record stating that he wouldn’t campaign for the party. With swift arrests and increase in withdrawal limits, BJP has for the time being managed to curb the anger brewing among depositors of the PMC Bank.
Maharashtra is the 3rdmost urbanized state of India. Around 45% of population of the state lives in urban areas. It’s urban population accounts for 13.5% of total urban population of the country. In absolute terms it houses the highest urban population in the country with 5 crore people. The population growth during 2001-2011 in urban centers was more than double at 23.64% versus 10.36% in rural centers. It has also been consistently above the level of urbanisation at pan-India level which was 31.1% as of 2011 census (1.44 times).
BJP has historically done well electorally in urban regions vis-à-vis rural areas. The urban voter is among the anchor voting segment of the party along with upper caste, traders and white-collar workers. BJP’s vote share (including allies) in rural India was 44 percent versus49 percent in urban India in the Lok Sabha 2014 elections as per India Today-Axis survey. NDA won more than half of the fully urban seats in the recently concluded general elections.
In Maharashtra, 54% urban voters backed NDA in 2019 general elections compared to 33% for UPA. It had a 5% edge in urban areas versus rural areas. This is the highest support that the party received in urban areas in the last four elections for which data is available. The rural regions of Vidarbha and North Maharashtra have been traditional strongholds of the BJP since many elections. However, in recent times, the party along with Senahas swept the urban and cosmopolitan Mumbai–Thane region.
Today, BJP controls more than 80% of the urban municipalities and nearly 60% of the fully- urban assembly constituencies. BJP won 53 out of 100 fully urban seats in 2014 state elections with 35% vote share. The decline of Raj Thackeray’s MNS has also helped in this cause.
Source: National Election Studies 2004, 2009, 2014, 2019
Mumbai-Thane (the financial capital) and Western Maharashtra (the sugar belt) are the two most predominant urban hubs of the state. NDA won all the 10 seats of Mumabi-Thane region both in 2014 and 2019 general elections. It also displaced NCP from its erstwhile stronghold in Western Maharashtra bagging 7 and 8 of the 11 seats in the two elections.
Under Modi BJP has developed a neo-middle-class vote bank. The BJP appeals to this aspirational class across the country’s urban population including the state of Maharashtra. This has helped the party check mate the caste arithmetic politics of regional parties. This ‘neo middle-class’ wants jobs, better infrastructure, good roads and flyovers, good lifestyle, decent salaries, among other things. This class cutting across caste lines has been voting for the BJP in recent times and is mainly responsible for its success.
During the past five years, the focus of Fadnavis government has been on beefing up the infrastructure in the state and encouraging large-scale investments in urban centres. These include the ambitious project of super communication, the Maharashtra Samruddhi Mahamarga (expressway linking Mumbai and Nagpur), metro projects in Mumbai, coastal road, domestic cruise terminal, new airport in Mumbai to name a few. The state is investing Rs. 7.5 lakh crore under the Sagarmala project. This appeals to the development oriented urban populace.
However, the urban vote is not loyal as we saw in 2004 Lok Sabha elections in which Vajpayee lost due to the apathy of middle class among other factors. Economic slowdown, loss of jobs, high rate of unemployment and a depressed consumer sentiment may lead to dissatisfaction. Unemployment was the 2nd top issue in the state in general elections. It still features among top 4 issues as per ABP opinion poll.
This dependence on urban voters poses a risk for BJP. Inequality is rising in Maharashtra, creating a severe urban-rural divide. Though per capita income of state at Rs. 1.47 lakh is greater than national average, the inequality amongst different districts is significant. While Mumbai has per capital income of Rs. 2.59 lakh, Nandurbar is only at Rs. 0.67 lakh. The entire Vidarbha region suffers from a very low-income level and is a hot bed of farmer suicides.
The constant flooding each year during rains in Mumbai is forcing significant urban populace to ask tough questions to the government. Some supporters of BJP whom I have spoken to do not rule out the possibility of abstaining from voting as Sena is contesting from their constituency. Sena has been ruling BMC for past three decades and is widely held accountable for the situation in Mumbai. BJP has been shifting the blame to Sena for Mumbai’s woes all this while. A section of voters is also demanding tax cuts similar to the corporates to tide over the slowdown of the economy. While there are issues, the TINA factor could sway some disenchanted urban voters towards the BJP.
At least in this election, the BJP appears well placed to maintain its support among the urban voters in Maharashtra.
Image Credit: DNA