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BJP hopes economic slump and Independents will not affect poll outcome in Maharashtra

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National Herald
22nd October, 2019 14:13 IST

If media coverage and exit polls are to be believed then it is a done deal for the BJP- Shiv Sena (SS) in Maharashtra. The results for 288 seats in the Maharashtra Assembly, if TV channels are to be taken at face value, have been announced and with great conviction.

Much of the victory is attributed to PM's performance in Houston, abrogation of Article 370 for J&K, even the much awaited verdict of Ram Janmabhoomi, which, if the popular narrative is to be taken seriously, is a foregone conclusion.

Typically, none of this has taken account of the fact that the election was held in a state which contributes to nearly 30% of the country's wealth.

The gloom in the Indian economy finds its roots in Maharashtra where the industrial sector is facing an unprecedented crisis. As if this is not enough, excess rains have led to destruction of a major part of the onion crop in rural Maharashtra, affecting the cost of food prices that the BJP govt claims are under control.

Political watchers and the ruling combine are banking on the index of opposition disunity that was a big factor in the Lok Sabha polls just a few months back to claim BJP- SS victory. However, the news coming in from the countryside is something that should worry Devendra Fadnavis and Modi -Shah duo.

What kind of victory the BJP SS combine manage to secure in the state will determine the future course of politics. At least some analysts believe that this election is very likely to be a repeat of the 1999 assembly performance. There is a striking similarity in the performance of BJP-SS in assembly elections, the economic situation then and the victory of Lok Sabha polls.

The 1999 assembly elections in Maharashtra took place immediately after the May 11 victory of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee govt. Then the BJP-SS had managed to get 69 and 56 seats respectively while Congress had bagged 75 and NCP 58 in an election in which no political combine crossed the half way mark of 144 seats.

Why was the performance of the BJP-SS alliance so poor then despite the fact that India had won the two-month long Kargil war against Pakistan and that formed the backdrop of the state election campaign. It was again the sagging economy that had cast a pall a gloom over the performance of the BJP-SS combine in the 1999 state election even though Congress-NCP did not make it the poll issue.

When the Vajpayee govt took over the reins of the country, the GDP growth had slumped to 5% , agriculture growth was negative, private investment had come to a standstill and exports had turned negative with the Rupee weakening significantly, very similar to the present economic and political situation. In 1999 also, it is worth recalling, the Congress was deemed to be in the doldrums and without a clear well defined leadership.

But what really spoilt the much anticipated victory of the BJP-SS alliance in 1999 were the independents who contested the polls. Nearly 30 plus independents, upset with the Congress, had contested the elections and 12 of them won and finally ended up joining the BJP-SS alliance to form the govt giving it the much needed numbers.

Today the situation is of a bigger magnitude with nearly 60 independents who have left the BJP to contest the election against it. Out of the total 285 seats they are expected to give a tough fight on 60 seats. These are regional strongmen who have left the BJP to contest against their own party. How many of them will win and which alliance they eventually support could well determine the next government in the state.

The opposition disunity threw a spanner in the victory of Congress and NCP then and can be seen again as a factor today as well. The campaign of the Congress has been carried out by individual satraps on the ground. The Congress central leadership knew of the infighting and decided against projecting one leader.

A state like Mahasrahtra, where there have always been strong regional leaders including heavyweight politicians like Sharad Pawar, Congress this time chose to rely on district level leaders.

Another unpredictable factor is the presence of small, regional parties that can change the equations. If Prakash Ambedkar led Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi was backed by the BJP to eat into the Congress NCP votes in Lok Sabha polls, this time it is Raj Thackeray's MNS eating into BJP SS votebank in roughly 25 seats (though MNS is contesting 104 seats).

In 1999 the East Asian crisis had spilled over to Russia and Brazil and had in turn affected exports and industrial production. Rural distress in 1998-99 was again due to excess rains.

However, today the economic situation is dire with closure of factories reported from key engineering hubs of Pune, Nashik, Jalgaon and Ahmednagar besides the mining businesses in Vidharbha region. Excess rains have hit many parts of Maharashtra this time too.

Barely five years back a Brahmin CM in a Maratha dominated state had caused a lot of ripples. Maratha's have never taken the Peshwai ( Peshwa’s regime) very kindly; they took to the streets over reservation issue, there have been caste slurs in educational institutions, agrarian distress that has clearly an anti-upper caste tone to it to name a few.

As if this was not enough, issues like collapse of cooperative banks like PMC being the latest to have added to the trouble of the common man. Analysts, therefore, are advising people to keep their fingers crossed and not jump to conclusions.

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