Lok Sabha battle is personal for Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray as they tries to stay relevant

If NDA drops below 2019 tally, it would energise regional satraps of INDIA bloc

PTI05_07_2024_000045B Battle royal: Narendra Modi arrives in Ahmedabad with Amit Shah on May 7 to cast his vote | PTI

Injured pride can be a major motivating factor and there is a lot riding on it in Maharashtra. The aggressive BJP had outwitted master strategist Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray, inheritor of Balasaheb Thackeray’s Maratha legacy, by supporting the spilt in their parties. For both leaders, the Lok Sabha battle is also a personal one to stay relevant.

For the BJP, it is crucial to stave off their challenge, not just for ensuring a good tally in Parliament, but also to prove that the party is successful at forging new alliances even at the cost of its own dedicated cadre. The sobriquet, washing machine, was cemented in Maharashtra when the BJP welcomed leaders from the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress whom it had attacked vehemently in the past.

The disquiet on the western front could spell trouble for both alliances. In 2019, the west, comprising Maharashtra, Gujarat, Goa and the Union territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu, gave 69 of its 78 seats to the BJP. In Maharashtra, the BJP and the undivided Shiv Sena won 41 of 48 seats—the BJP got 23 and the Sena, 18. In Gujarat, the BJP won all 26 seats.

“We are on course to repeat our 2019 performance,” said the BJP’s national spokesperson Tuhin Sinha. “The situation in Maharashtra is quite clear. There are three people on one side—Sharad Pawar, Uddhav Thackeray and Rahul Gandhi, who subverted the mandate of 2019. People have seen their malgovernance as all projects came to a standstill because of Uddhav’s inaccessibility and the extortion raj run with their support.”

The BJP’s alliance with the Eknath Shinde faction of the Sena and the Ajit Pawar faction of the NCP faces a major push back from the coalition of the Congress, the Sharad Pawar faction of the NCP and Uddhav’s Sena. If the NDA drops below its 2019 tally, it would energise its opponents and make its western front shaky. The INDIA bloc and its regional satraps need a good show in the south, west and east of the country to compensate for their apparent lack of strength in the north.

The intensely watched contest in Maharashtra is in its western part, which used to be Sharad Pawar’s stronghold. Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar is fighting to take control of the region that he had looked after for his uncle. Sharad Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule, who was vocal against the Narendra Modi government in Parliament, is being challenged by her sister-in-law and Ajit’s wife, Sunetra, in their pocket borough, Baramati.

Maharashtra results will likely redraw battle grounds and challenge the hold of the satraps over their fiefdoms. If Sule loses in Baramati, it would further diminish Sharad Pawar’s standing. But if his faction manages to put up a good show, it would mean that the sympathy factor has worked and that could play a cementing role for the INDIA bloc in Maharashtra. It could prove crucial in the assembly elections due later this year.

Similarly, a good show by Uddhav would mean that his core voters has chosen him over his ideological cousins. But if his faction is not able to convert the sympathy factor into votes of his Maratha supporters, it would mean that the BJP would be the sole claimant to the hindutva sentiment.

The BJP said there would not be any sympathy for Uddhav as he deserted his core vote bank for minority appeasement. “They called us gau mutra party. The sympathy will be with Devendra Fadnavis who sacrificed the post of chief minister to ensure development,” said Sinha.

Modi, meanwhile, is not leaving anything to chance. Compared with 2019, he has held more campaign events in Maharashtra to counter the sympathy factor and caste polarisation caused by the Maratha reservation agitation.

In neighbouring Gujarat, the battle is personal for Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Their home state gave them 100 per cent seats in the last two elections, clocking over 60 per cent vote share. The BJP has maintained its winning streak in the state for close to three decades. Its core base is enthused by the prospect of making Modi prime minister for the third time. The Gujarati pride that Modi alludes to has helped the party tide over challenges from certain caste leaders. In fact, leaders like Alpesh Thakor and Hardik Patel have joined the BJP, ditching the Congress.

The BJP’s campaign suffered a setback after Union Minister Parshottam Rupala made some remarks about Kshatriyas at an election rally, which were deemed offensive by the influential Rajput community. Although the Rajputs wanted Rupala to be dropped from the list of candidates, the BJP did not relent as it apparently looked at the consolidation of Patel voters whose numbers are even bigger and are crucial to the party’s victory.

“The BJP has been in power for more than 27 years and we have delivered. There is extra enthusiasm among voters this time as they want to make Narendra Modi prime minister for the third time,” said BJP spokesperson Yamal Vyas. He said the BJP was surprised that the Congress gave some seats to the Aam Aadmi Party. “The Congress has lost the will to fight. The leaders are leaving and the workers are not excited.”

The total decimation of the opposition in Gujarat even after Modi moved to Delhi means that parties like the Congress and the AAP will have to work harder. But the Congress, which put up a good show during the 2017 assembly polls, failed to consolidate its position, resulting in the BJP winning a historic mandate five years later.

Ties between Maharashtra and Gujarat extend beyond historical, cultural and business relations. It will be further strengthened as India’s first-ever bullet train links the two states in 2026. Modi would like to inaugurate the project as prime minister and would prefer to see BJP governments in both states while doing so.