Maratha Reservation, Breaking Parties and Onion Export Ban Key Factors in BJP’s Maharashtra Defeat in 2024 Lok Sabha Elections

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Reported by Varad Bhatkhande

Mumbai, 5th June 2024: The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won 293 seats in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, securing a majority. However, the victory feels bittersweet for NDA supporters, while the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) supporters celebrate their performance despite the loss. The NDA’s ability to form a stable government hinges on alliances with Bihar leader Nitish Kumar and Andhra Pradesh leader N. Chandrababu Naidu, both considered unreliable partners.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) within the NDA performed poorly in its strongholds of Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. In Maharashtra, the Mahayuti alliance, which includes the BJP, Ajit Pawar’s NCP, Eknath Shinde’s Shiv Sena, and others, won only 17 out of 48 seats. The Mahavikas Aghadi (MVA), comprising Sharad Pawar’s NCP, Shiv Sena UBT, the Indian National Congress, and others, secured 30 seats, with one seat going to an Independent candidate.

The BJP’s tally in Maharashtra dropped from 23 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections to just 9 seats this year. Conversely, the Congress increased its seats from 1 in 2019 to 13, the most for any party in Maharashtra. Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP has taken responsibility for the poor performance, offering to resign from his roles as Maharashtra’s Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister to focus on the upcoming Vidhan Sabha elections. He acknowledged that this was a significant setback for the BJP.

Several factors influenced Mahayuti’s loss in Maharashtra:

Maratha Reservation: The BJP’s stance on the Maratha Reservation significantly hurt its standing in Marathwada during the Lok Sabha elections. The party lost all four contested seats, including Jalna, a stronghold since 1996, where Union Minister Raosaheb Danve was defeated by Congress’ Kalyan Kale. Pankaja Munde also lost in Beed to NCP’s Bajrang Sonawne, and BJP candidates were defeated in Nanded and Latur. Despite the MVA’s dominance, the Shiv Sena (Shinde faction) won one seat. These outcomes underscore how the Maratha Reservation issue shaped voter sentiment against the Mahayuti.

Onion Export Uncertainty: The onion export ban severely impacted the BJP-led Yuti alliance in Maharashtra during the elections. Before Prime Minister Modi’s roadshow in Nashik, authorities restricted Bharat Dighole, president of the onion growers association, to prevent protests. NDA candidates in key onion-growing areas like Nashik, Dindori, Dhule, and Ahmednagar suffered significant defeats. Farmers, upset by the export ban and falling onion prices, prioritized their financial well-being over political loyalty. Despite government efforts to ease tensions with limited exports, the high export price and duty failed to appease the farmers.

Party Takeover Politics: Eknath Shinde’s departure from Shiv Sena in June 2022, taking the majority of its MLAs to form a government with the BJP, and Ajit Pawar’s similar move a year later, splitting the NCP, influenced voter sentiment. Sharad Pawar, with significant support in Maharashtra, garnered sympathy when the NCP split due to his nephew Ajit’s departure. Despite losses in Satara and Raigad, Sharad Pawar’s candidates put up a strong fight, winning in Baramati, Shirur, Madha, Ahmednagar, Beed, Wardha, Dindori, and Bhiwandi.

BJP’s Alleged Misuse of Power: The BJP has been accused of misusing constitutional mechanisms, particularly the Enforcement Directorate (ED), to target opposition leaders unfairly. Opposition figures claim the ED is used to intimidate their candidates during elections, noting a disparity in investigations. This perceived bias fuels claims that the ED favors the BJP. Despite increased funding, the agency’s limited success in convictions raises questions about its effectiveness. Arvind Kejriwal’s arrest by the ED further solidified these concerns among the public.

CM Shinde Bottled Mumbai: Mumbai, a Shiv Sena stronghold since Balasaheb Thackeray’s era, became a battleground following the party’s split in 2022. The city’s support was crucial in determining allegiance to either Eknath Shinde or Uddhav Thackeray. Thackeray emerged victorious as the MVA won 4 out of 6 Mumbai seats, while Shinde’s Yuti managed only two. Reports suggest the same sympathy factor aiding Sharad Pawar also benefited Thackeray. Although Shinde secured Thane, Kalyan, and Palghar seats, he failed to capture Bhiwandi, considered an extension of Mumbai Lok Sabha.

Anti-Incumbency and Selection of Wrong Candidates: Anti-incumbency sentiments were evident in parts of Maharashtra. Many candidates fielded by the Yuti were rejected by the public upon announcement. This sentiment was most pronounced in Sangli, where sitting BJP MP Sanjay Kaka Patil was defeated by Congress rebel independent candidate Vishal Patil, the only independent winner from Maharashtra. Yuti’s candidate selections in Shirur, Madha, and Solapur also faced heavy criticism from the electorate.

Underperformance of Ajit Pawar: NCP, led by Ajit Pawar, secured only 4 seats in total. His wife, Sunetra Pawar, ran from their home turf in Baramati; Shivajirao Adhalrao Patil from Shirur; Archana Patil from Dharashiv; and Sunil Tatkare from Raigad. Of these, only Tatkare won, and not as comfortably as expected. Yuti heavily relied on Pawar for campaigning, but his underperformance cost them several seats. All his other candidates lost by significant margins. Additionally, Ajit Pawar’s controversial statements and alleged threats to activists further alienated voters, negatively impacting Yuti’s prospects.

Gujarat Factor and Increasing Crime: Many in Maharashtra believe that various projects, companies, and initiatives are being moved from Maharashtra to Gujarat. The youth, struggling to settle in today’s world, have criticized the BJP for this shift. This sentiment has turned many young voters against Yuti in Maharashtra. Additionally, increasing crime, such as the recent Kalyani Nagar Porsche incident in Pune, where political influence is alleged, has led some people to have second thoughts about the ruling Mahayuti.

Some Positive Takeaways:

1. Mahayuti received a much-needed reality check before the Vidhan Sabha elections, which will happen in approximately six months.
2. Learning from their mistakes, they can make changes and still maintain a strong position in the upcoming Vidhan Sabha, as the NDA is likely to have a majority at the Centre.
3. Raj Thackeray’s alignment with Mahayuti provided a significant boost. Wherever Thackeray campaigned, such as in Konkan, Pune, Mumbai, and Kalyan, Mahayuti managed to win seats.
4. Leaders like Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, Udayanraje Bhosale, Murlidhar Mohol, Shrikant Shinde, and Naresh Mhaske won comfortably in their constituencies, showcasing Mahayuti’s reliance on them.