Lessons for the BJP from Maharashtra Election 2019

  • The BJP must reflect upon on why it could not better its tally in spite of many good initiatives, but to say it lost votes due to hyper-nationalism is wrong.

Many were expecting the BJP-Shiv Sena (SS) combine to sweep the Maharashtra polls so the 161 seats won is being perceived as a major loss esp. for the BJP.


It is true that the BJP did not do everything right but to magnify the fewer seats (17) won as a reversal of BJP’s fortunes is misplaced esp. if one looks at the trend of seats won since 1995. 





































Note: The NCP was formed in 1999; the 1995 elections were fought under Congress banner. 

Ever since the state of Maharashtra was formed in 1960 and up to 2014 the BJP-SS combined were able to break the Congress-NCP stranglehold only once i.e. in 1995. Maharashtra was always a Congress bastion.


Things began to change. Balasaheb Thackeray passed away in 2012. Due to a strong anti-Congress/NCP sentiment and Modi Wave, BJP won 122 seats in 2014 up 165% and Sena 63 seats up 43% inspite of fighting elections independently.  


The point being made is that one must not compare BJP’s 105 seats against 122 won in 2014, an exceptional year, but its ability to retain 105 out of 122. So also Sena’s increase in 2014 tally could also be a result of respect for Balasaheb Thackeray since it was the first assembly poll post his death.


One must remember that a government seeking re-election faces anti-incumbency, in this case faced almost by the BJP since the SS invariably behaved like an opposition party even though it was part of the government.


It is also pertinent to note that the SS was regarded as an elder brother in the alliance because of the over-arching personality of Balasaheb Thackeray and not because it won substantially more seats than the BJP. In fact starting 2009, the BJP got more seats than the SS.


Compared to BJP-SS the Congress-NCP combine got 83 seats in 2014 and 98 in 2019. They are however, nowhere near their peak of 140-144 seats in 2004 and 2009.


The 54 seats that NCP got was because of Pawar’s monumental efforts but still less than what his party got in 1999. The Congress got two seats more than what it did in 2014. It shows that the Congress/NCP have a committed voter base, obviously since they ruled for all but ten years since 1960.  


Having said the above, the BJP has lessons to learn.


One, there are limitations to milking national security. At a poll rally in Nashik Prime Minister Modi said, “We want to create a paradise in Jammu and Kashmir once again and hug every Kashmiri.” Honestly, would any Nasik voter be concerned about hugging Kashmiris?


Modi-Shah duo used the same approach in 2017 Gujarat elections and were lucky to scrape through.


Two, incumbent BJP governments must realize that ‘Brand Modi’ can supplement their voter base provided they deliver and devise sound local strategies.


Further a victory in Lok Sabha does not automatically translate into a victory in assembly polls and vice a versa as Kamal Nath and Ashok Gehlot discovered.


Three, over-confidence. What is it that the BJP, within a few years of being in power, become over-confident and believe they are God’s gift to the electorate?


They behaved like this in 2004 and lost. The Modi-Shah duo did not repeat the mistake in 2019 but Maharashtra’s leadership have not learnt.  


Over-confidence results in taking the electorate for granted (no voter likes that), arrogance (Pankaja Munde’s body-language) and under-estimating your opponents. 


Four, the BJP underestimated Sharad Pawar. Fadnavis needed to realize that he was all of eight years when Pawar became Chief Minister of Maharashtra in 1978. 

Pawar has dominated and been an important part of state politics since 1978. He is connected to the grass-roots and the administrative system as few current day politicians are.


Moreover, when public see a 79 year old politician-cancer survivor cover the length and breadth of the State in what may be the last election of his life, public gets emotional and vote accordingly.


Five, BJP welcomed leaders from other parties.  


On election eve this author travelled to rural Kolhapur for the Haldi Festival at  Pattan Kodoli village. Based on limited conversations with rural folk, can say defections were not looked upon kindly.


In Vidharbha’s Gondiya constituency, Gopaldas Agrawal quit the Congress before the elections and joined the BJP who gave him a ticket. Vinod Agarwal, who was denied the ticket contested as an independent and won. 


Someone has to accept responsibility for allocating tickets that led to avoidable losses. 


Six, agricultural distress in Vidharbha has existed for years so cannot be the only reason why the BJP won only 15 out of 44 seats, as against 29 in 2014. So also the BJP won only six out of 12 seats in Nagpur district as against 11 in 2014. These losses call for introspection. 


Seven, use of central agencies before elections. 


During Ahmed Patel's re-election to the Rajya Sabha in 2017 there were income-tax raids on a Karnataka minister who is alleged to have helped Patel’s re-election. Similarly, Enforcement Directorate notices to Pawar on election eve backfired, was used by Pawar as an attack on Maratha asmita notwithstanding that Pawar did not legislate reservations for Marathas something the BJP did.


Timing raids on elections eve is perceived to be an attempt to browbeat opponents.


Also, the BJP government did not purse the Irrigation-Scandal case against Ajit Pawar in five years. 


Eight, voters have not forgotten the State government proposal to make a Muslim burial ground near the 11th century Ambernath Shiv Mandir and a Ganapati immersion ghat. At various times, the Fadnavis government proved itself to be more ‘secular’ than the Congress-NCP. 


It is important for BJP state leaders to realize that an assembly election is more about what an incumbent government has done right whilst reminding the electorate of how the Congress-NCP made a mess during their fifteen year rule.


The BJP must reflect upon on why it could not better its tally inspite of many good initiatives but to say it lost votes due to of hyper-nationalism is wrong. Importantly, the party think-tank should strategize on Maharashtra’s political landscape in the post Pawar era. 


Author is a Chartered Accountant and founder www.esamskriti.com


First published in Rediff.com and here


Also read - What went wrong for the BJP in Gujarat 2017 elections 

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