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Lok Sabha results shouldn’t make BJP-Sena complacent in Maharashtra

LiveMint logoLiveMint 02-06-2014 Makarand Gadgil

Mumbai: Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray declared his candidature for the post of Maharashtra’s chief ministership, saying, “My party workers want to see me as the next chief minister of the state and there is nothing wrong with this.” He told this to reporters on the sidelines of an event in Mumbai last Thursday even as Mumbai is witnessing banners and posters across the city, wishing Uddhav all the best to become the chief minister.

Though Sena’s alliance partner Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) didn’t oppose Uddhav’s chief ministerial ambitions in public, they indicated that the issue is far from settled. According to the BJP, the saffron alliance will declare its chief ministerial candidate at an appropriate time. Going by the current formula, the party with higher number of MLAs gets the chief minister’s post.

A resurgent BJP is pushing for higher share of seats for assembly polls. Under the prevailing arrangement put in place in 1990, out of 288 assembly seats, Sena contests 171 seats and the BJP the rest.

Incidentally, the BJP’s state unit is plagued with internal groupings. While Union minister for rural development Gopinath Munde is trying to get himself nominated as the party’s chief ministerial candidate, Union minister for transport Nitin Gadkari is doing everything that he can to prevent this from happening.

The younger leaders in the party like the leader of the opposition in the legislative council Vinod Tawde and the party’s state unit president Devendra Fadnavis are also attempting to get the central leadership’s nod for their names for chief ministership. The stance is: the generation next should be promoted for the long-term future of the party.

This is pretty evident that the BJP and the Sena leaders have already assumed that they will return to power when polls for the state assembly will be held later this year. Both these parties are heavily relying on what happened in 2004 and 2009—the winning alliance in Lok Sabha polls also won the assembly polls which took place six months later on both occasions.

However, both the parties need to remember the outcome of 1999 elections and not that of 2009 and 2004. In 1999, the Lok Sabha and assembly elections had taken place simultaneously in the western state. In that election, while BJP-Sena alliance won 28 Lok Sabha seats out of 48 and got 38% of total votes polled, in the assembly the saffron alliance managed to win only 125 seats out of 288, gathering only 32% votes. So, it’s clear that the people know how to differentiate between the national polls and the state polls and who can serve them better and where.

Elections to assembly are a different ball game where personality of local candidate comes more into play than loyalty to a party. Many of Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) legislators, especially in rural Maharashtra, dominate politics through their control over cooperative institutions such as sugar cooperatives, banks, milk producers’ associations, educational institutions among others and they are also revered by people in their respective constituencies for their contribution to local economy. Fighting these entrenched candidates is more difficult than contesting national elections which are contested more on different issues such as economic growth, inflation, and national security, among others.

They also must remember that the gap of four to five months between the Lok Sabha and the assembly polls offers the ruling Congress and the NCP an opportunity to finetune their strategy. With a wily campaigner like Sharad Pawar, free from his ministerial responsibilities, planning to solely focus on reviving his party’s fortunes, it’s certainly not be a cakewalk for the BJP-Sena combine.

Bhagwat’s 10

On 20 May, after getting elected as a leader of BJP’s parliamentary party, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his acceptance speech with moist eyes remembered the hard work put in by five to six generations of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Jan Sangh to make BJP what it is today.

We don’t know whether Modi is aware of the contribution made by Sangh’s Vasantrao Bhagwat in the growth of BJP in Maharashtra but three of Modi’s cabinet colleagues from Maharashtra will fondly remember their guru as they are settling down in their ministerial responsibilities in Delhi.

Out of six ministers from Maharashtra in the central cabinet, three—rural development minister Munde, transport minister Gadkari and information and broadcasting an environment minister Prakash Javdekar—belong to an elite club known in Maharashtra’s political circle as Bhagwat’s 10 boys.

All these men owe their political careers to Bhagwat who was the organizing general secretary from late 1960s till his death in 1991—first of Jan Sangh and then the BJP.

The other seven who belonged to the Bhagwat-10 are former BJP general secretary the late Pramod Mahajan, former leader of opposition in legislative council Pandurang Phundkar, former MLA and party state unit general secretary Vishwas Gangurde, party’s MP from Palghar constituency Chintaman Vanga, former legislator Arun Adsad, former Maharashtra finance minister Mahadeorao Shivankar and former general secretary of state unit Dharamchand Chordia.

Bhagwat was one of the first strategists of the BJP to realize that if the party has to grow, it will have to shed its Brahmin-Bania tag and promote faces from other backward class (OBC), dalits and tribal communities.

Though three of his 10 disciples—Mahajan, Gadkari and Javdekar—are Brahmins, the other seven were OBC, dalit and tribal. Munde who belonged to influential OBC caste of Vanjaras was made the party’s state unit president at the age of 35 in the mid-1980s.

This experiment of social engineering was replicated by the BJP across states and the party now has a pantheon of leaders from the OBC community across country, including Modi himself.

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