Political developments in recent times have taken unpredictable and contrary turns, exposing the superficiality of the electoral process and of Parliamentary democracy – a trend increasingly being witnessed in elections all over the world. A few years back it would not have been possible to imagine that government-formation would become such a grave challenge after elections. Yet, this is precisely what is happening. Countries like Israel and Spain or populist referendums like Brexit show how Parliamentary democracy is beginning to collapse under the weight of its own machinations.
India is no stranger to the travesties of this system of modern democracy – a system based not on the expression of popular will, but on the cultivation of carefully nurtured vote-banks and coalition-stitching that can help in retaining power. Not just this, but the compulsions of vote-banks dictate the whole ideology and most of the decisions of the parties. In such a democracy, it is not national interest, but competition between organized selfish interests that prevails. Not a single party in India is immune to this mode of functioning in our Parliamentary democracy.
The just concluded state assembly elections in India are a case in point. Recent elections in Haryana and Maharashtra have seen a rampant play of vote-bank dynamics, divided along caste lines, that had made government formation in both the states complicated – more so in the case of Maharashtra.
A Divided Mandate
Legislative elections in the 90-member Haryana assembly saw a fractured mandate. While BJP emerged as the single largest party with 40 seats, it fell short of the majority mark. Congress won 31 seats, while Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) of Dushyant Chautala won 10 seats.
Performance of Major Parties in Haryana:
Seat share Seat share Seat share Seat share
(2014) (2019) (2014) (2019)
BJP 47 40 33.2% 36.5%
Congress 15 31 20.5% 28%
JJP 10 14.8%
Significantly, despite the downfall in seats, BJP’s vote share increased from 2014, while Congress’s seat share and vote share, both, increased. The key to BJP’s politics in Haryana, since 2014, when it swept the state elections, has been to consolidate the non-Jat votes. While Jats – forming a critical base of parties like INLD and now, JJP, and Congress – form around 20-25% of the state’s population and have enjoyed considerable political clout due to their landowning status, BJP, by floating Khattar – a Punjabi non-Jat Khatri – has been attempting to shore up its support base among intermediate OBC castes such as Valmikis and Dhanaks (Alexander & Padmanabhan, 2019).
For the BJP this time, the spoiler in Haryana elections were the Jat and Dalit voting patterns. While Jats went against the BJP, the latter retained its share in the 17 Scheduled Caste (SC) reserved seats, but could not make new inroads. Instead Congress ended up making heavy gains in various reserved seats due to the fall of the INLD on these seats. Congress increased its vote share in these seats from 25% in 2014 to 30.3% in 2019, while BJP’s vote share remained at 33%. While Congress won 7 of these seats, BJP won 5 and JJP won 4, with 1 going to an independent. INLD’s loss became Congress’s gain instead of BJP’s, partly because of the anger of Dera Sacha Sauda clan which has vast sections of Dalit followers.
As far as Jat votes are concerned, there was a clear anti-BJP mobilization among Jats. There was no instance of Jat votes getting scattered, and, very deliberately, they went either with the JJP or with the Congress in various seats. The fact that the voter turnout was depressed (from 76.1% in 2014 to 68.5% in 2019) and that Jat mobilization was extremely strong and acrimonious indicates that absentee voters may have been BJP’s vote-base, besides the fact that turnout was low in the constituencies that BJP won (Verniers, 2019).
In Maharashtra, similar pattern was seen, although it was also mediated by various other local factors. In the 288-member Maharashtra assembly, the NDA, consisting then of BJP-Shiv Sena combine, had won 161 seats, with BJP winning 105 seats and Shiv Sena winning 56 seats. However, the strike rate of BJP was better this time – at around 70%, since in 2014, it had contested 260 seats and won 122, while in 2019, it had contested 150 seats and won 105. On the other hand, in 2014, Shiv Sena had contested 282 seats and won 63, while in 2019, it had contested 124 seats and won 56, with a strike rate of around 45%. The NCP made considerable gains, while Congress’s performance was lackluster.
Performance of Main Parties in Maharashtra:
Seat share Seat share Seat share Seat share
(2014) (2019) (2014) (2019)
BJP 122 105/150 27.8% 25.7%
Shiv Sena 63 56/124 19.3% 16.4%
NCP 41 54/121 17.2% 16.7%
Congress 42 44/147 18% 15.9%
Despite the set-back, BJP still has the largest seat share and vote share, and all four main political parties saw a decline in the vote share from 2014. When we look at vote-share in the seats contested, then BJP stands at 44.5%, followed by Shiv Sena and NCP at 38.3% each and finally followed by Congress at 32.7%, with the results showing that BJP has improved its vote share per seat contested quite significantly since 2014 (Vernier, 2019).
Also, there was a lower turnout in Maharashtra elections this time – 3 percentage points lower than in 2014 (Vernier, 2019).
The BJP did not perform well in the Vidarbha region, which it had previously swept in 2014 assembly election and in 2019 general election. The NCP continued to rule the roost in its traditional sugar belt stronghold of Pune and South-Nashik.
The regional division of vote-shares show that BJP has performed well across all regions, compared to other three parties. In Khandesh and western Maharashtra, NCP gave it a neck-to-neck fight. Despite the fact that Konkan and Mumbai are Shiv Sena strongholds, BJP performed the best in that region. In Vidarbha, Congress gave a good fight to BJP in the latter’s stronghold.
The regional and overall vote-shares show how fragmented the polity in Maharashtra actually is. There were also several smaller radical Dalit and Buddhist political parties in the fray and several independents, who cut into BJP votes, although, as usual, Prakash Ambedkar’s Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) and AIMIM1 played a spoiler for Congress-NCP. Indeed, in this election, one out of four voters opted for a party other than these four main parties (Vernier, 2019).
1 (It may have cut into the Muslim votes of Congress. This time, 304 Muslim candidates contested, out of which only 17 ran on the tickets of four main parties – Congress fielded 11, NCP fielded 4, Shiv Sena fielded 2 and BJP fielded zero Muslim candidates (Vernier, 2019). In Maharashtra, BJP was the only party to have fielded zero Muslim candidates.)
Putting Maharashtra in Perspective
Despite the fact that BJP had fairly strong chances of winning more comprehensively, with the 2019 general election exercising a positive impact, the Maharashtra election has come as a dampener to the party. In a city like Nagpur, which is the hometown of Devendra Fadnavis and the epicenter of RSS leadership, the BJP was left struggling and saw a considerable decline from 2014.
Similarly, some post-poll surveys also indicate that the BJP may have lost some support from amongst its core constituencies viz. young, middle-class and OBC voters – losing around 18% of the vote from OBCs compared to 2019 election (Ranjan, 2019).
This is significant, as BJP’s politics in Maharashtra (as in other states like Haryana and UP) has been based on stitching a Hindutva social coalition excluding the dominant castes, like Marathas (Maharashtra), Jats (Haryana), Patidars (Gujarat), and Yadavs and Jatav Dalits (UP). This means intermediary castes – sometimes even more than SCs – have become pivotal guardians of the Hindu consolidation movement.
These castes have been ignored or disempowered by dominant intermediary castes, which had made it possible for BJP to virtually bring together all sections of Hindu society across all castes except the dominant intermediate castes. However, BJP, yet kept up its outreach to dominant castes also. Notwithstanding the Haryana exception this time due to local factors, there is absolutely no doubt that Jats have undergone great saffronization since 2014.
For these non-dominant intermediate castes to get disenchanted with the party will be a setback for sure – a set-back which might re-open old caste fault-lines and the kind of poisonous, selfish politics in which a dominant caste like Jat (in Haryana) or Yadav (in UP) would unabashedly ally with Muslim vote-banks and keep the Hindu majority suppressed and divided.
The BJP movement since 2014 has firmly changed this old style politics, and it is unlikely that two state elections will break the new social changes and coalitions that have come. Local factors, low voter turn-out and the cutting into BJP votes by independents have complicated the picture somewhat. Maratha consolidation may be yet another factor, but then, Marathas have hardly gone with BJP or Congress, preferring NCP and Shiv Sena. In Maharashtra, the pull of regional Maratha identity is stronger compared to other states – which is why BJP has heavily relied on the 26-27% OBC Hindu vote-base in the state.
It has been rather difficult to bring Marathi chauvinism and pan-India cultural nationalism onto the same page. This time, even Shivaji’s direct descendent, Uday Bhonsale, fighting on a BJP ticket lost badly. BJP’s attempts to woo Marathas – through the momentous decision on reservation, and by invoking cultural icons like Savarkar and Shivaji – too have failed.
This shows that despite six progressive years in which national awakening has been witnessed, the dangers of reversion to old ways are still very much there. Six years of a nationalistic central government – that has achieved nearly all that it had promised – cannot so easily wipe out 60 years of unmitigated vote-bank and appeasement politics that has become deeply entrenched in the psyche of our system, as well as in the psyche of our politicians.
Navigating the social and political field in Maharashtra can be exceedingly tough in the light of these complications. The drama that ensued after the elections – between the four main parties – shows that opportunism and selfish greed alone are the handmaidens of modern-day democracy.
In the light of the results of this election, where BJP was far ahead in its own capacity, it was not only galling that Shiv Sena would resort to open blackmail in the quest for power, but also that it would easily break a 30-year long alliance based on Hindutva and start appeasing the secular parties. In particular, personal visits made to Sonia Gandhi and the manner in which Sena made all efforts to bow to Congress – the only real loser in this election – has put all their claims on Hindu issues to shame.
As far as the BJP’s role in the post-election developments is concerned, the picture is still hazy. The reason why BJP would suddenly form a 3-day government by taking a secretive oath and the events in the intervening night of 22-23 November, cannot be explained with any certainty.
However, here are the points that we can be sure about:
One, BJP – on the insistence of RSS – has tried till the very end to give space to Sena and encourage it to come back. Short of the over-the-top demand of a rotating CM post, all other plump offers were made – all the good ministries as well as Deputy CM post. For a party like Sena, whose record in the BMCs has been riddled with corruption and who has been a friend of real estate sharks, these offers should have sufficed. But now Sena – in the NCP-Sena-Congress alliance – just has the CM post, while all the good posts have gone to NCP and Congress.
Second, it has now been confirmed that till the very end, not only was BJP banking on Sena coming around, but was also conducting parallel negotiations with the NCP – both Ajit Pawar and Sharad Pawar. Sharad Pawar had even asked that Union Agicultural Ministry be given to Supriya Sule and that Fadnavis2 not be made the CM. Both demands were rejected by BJP.
2 (Fadnavis was not only a Brahmin CM in a Maratha-dominated polity, but also the second CM since Vasant Rao Naik to complete a full 5-year term. Sharad Pawar’s politics of Maratha chauvinism is well-known, as well as his attempts to show down the Brahmins, in an attempt to root caste-based politics. In this sense, NCP has more in common with Sena than with Congress.)
Third, since the Sena-NCP-Congress talks began, it had frequently been reported that the alliance is all for scrapping the Mumbai-Ahemdabad bullet train project, ostensibly in the interest of diverting funds to the farmers.
In the light of these developments, it is evident – and has been reported through unofficial sources – that Fadnavis may have taken oath not to become the CM, but to thwart the designs of the upcoming alliance to corner money in a cash-rich state like Maharashtra. Already, Congress – deprived of funds – has been dreaming of cornering more money. All three parties – Sena, NCP and Congress – are known faces of corruption. The bullet train project is a 50:50 partnership between centre and two states viz. Gujarat and Maharashtra. Maharashtra controls 25% of the funds. The alliance had already declared its intention to siphon these funds for ‘farmer welfare’ – in reality, it could mean siphoning these funds for enriching their own coffers.
This would prevent the alliance – especially the Congress – from appropriating these funds in the name of farmers. Ajit Pawar was not taken into confidence, but he played his own game. By helping the BJP, he has secured himself from being hounded by investigative agencies and gone back to the NCP, where, in any case, Supriya Sule was adamant on taking over the party leadership.
While some unofficial accounts – including a statement by BJP minister, Ananth Hegde of Karnataka – have, thus, stated openly in the public domain that Fadnavis became an 80-hour CM in order to transfer bullet train project funds to the central funds so as to prevent their misuse by the Congress, Fadnavis himself has rejected these claims. Therefore, there can be no official confirmation of Fadnavis’s actions in the public domain – reasons best known to the BJP only.
After the early morning oath-taking of Fadnavis was complete, it had become evident, after some hours, that the whole thing was really a hoax, as the NCP MLAs whose signatures Ajit Pawar had obtained denied supporting BJP and went back to Sharad Pawar. At the same time, cases against Ajit Pawar were closed, while Fadnavis busied himself with official business for the 3 days that he was the CM. Even with basic common sense it should be clear that BJP would never shoot itself in the foot by perpetuating what it already knew was a hoax – unless there is another emergency reason for it, and these are reasons that can never be confirmed for sure. It would have made more sense for BJP to wait for 6 months or 1 year – the alliance would have fallen and events played out like in Karnataka.
Whatever be the real story, the entire episode has played out like a calculated game. In the end, the alliance may have gained power, but have suffered a dent in their financial planning – especially on bullet train project. Interestingly, even though Congress was the biggest loser of the Maharashtra election, it has thrown no mean tantrums in government formation, making sure that Sena bends backwards to please it and also that it is purged of all remaining Hindutva elements.
It is difficult to imagine on what basis Sena will seek votes in the next election – certainly not on the plank of Hindutva, which has been left to the BJP. It may seek votes in the same of regressive Maratha caste politics and become just as invisible and insignificant as BSP has become in UP or it may disappear further on its own. It is being speculated that Congress has dented its ‘secular’ image by allying with Sena – an intellectual farce. The Muslims will be as ready to now vote for Sena as for any other non-BJP party that bashes Hindutva political ideology. It is a boon that AIMIM and VBA have become active in Maharashtra – they have been the biggest obstacles to Congress’s attempts to consolidate its minority and radical Dalit vote-bank.
In the long-term, political changes in Maharashtra portend an era where BJP may come into its own, free from the suffocating and corrupt shackles of the Sena. For BJP, there is ample field for social coalition-building across Hindu society that it started doing in 2014, but for Sena and others, it’s the end of road. They will have to – as they have done – confine themselves to Maratha and minority pockets.
The movement that was started towards changing the politics and society of the country is now irreversible, since it targets not the outer body politic (which keeps changing) but the fundamental national character and psyche (which endures). Minor local setbacks in state elections are unlikely to prove an obstacle to this trend. It is not the receding and advancing political map of Hindutva that matters as much as its permanently expanding cultural influence in all corners of the country and the world at large.
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