EPW Editorial on Elections in Maharashtra and Haryana


Arrogance of power can be undermined by the reassertion of social contradictions.


The results of the assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana have punctured the myth of the invincibility of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Inflated claims made by its leaders regarding the huge number of seats have fallen flat as its tally has come down from the 2014 assembly results, and forming the government on its own has been reduced to a pipe dream.


After the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance returned to power at the centre with increased strength, a perception emerged that the BJP, under its leadership duo, cannot be challenged (let alone defeated) as it controls the popular narrative on the one hand and levers of power on the other. However, these results have underscored the first principle of democratic politics, that seemingly unchecked powers can be reined in by relentlessly going to people, gaining their confidence, and rallying them around. Such effort was most evident in Maharashtra in the oppositional campaign spearheaded by Sharad Pawar, whose emphasis on forging direct mass contact has effectively countered the propaganda blitz of the ruling party. Fortitude shown by Pawar—symbolised by his rally in Satara during heavy rains—in the face of political adversity enthused the activists and supporters. Pawar also brought the campaign on the ground, closer to the lives and livelihoods of the people, as the ruling party kept harping on issues of majoritarian nationalism and systematic targeting of the opposition leaders. Rejecting the drive towards an “opposition-mukt Bharat,” electorates in Maharashtra and Haryana have strengthened the opposition parties, thereby further impelling them to stick to the consistent oppositional politics of holding the ruling party to account. If such consistency was visible in the last five years or if the relentless campaigning of the last two months were to have been a permanent feature, the results could have been even better for them.


In many ways, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) notice to Sharad Pawar became the turning point of the election campaign in Maharahstra. Primarily, it galvanised the Maratha community, as one of the foremost leaders among them was perceived to have been targeted for standing firm as the opposition. It should be noted that contrary to the understanding cultivated among the commentariat that the Maratha community is a monolith or a homogeneous voting bloc, it has always voted in a differentiated manner. Despite epithets such as the “Maratha strongman,” Pawar and his party have received electoral support from only a section among the community. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that due to the reasons rooted in the sociocultural history and political economy of Maharashtra, he invokes a sense of immediate identification among the Marathas. This sense of identification became politically and electorally activated in the aftermath of the ED notice and Pawar’s combative response. However, it was not merely an emotive issue as this sense of being targeted was fused with the sense of isolation manifested in the neglect of the rural–agrarian issues by the rulers from a non-agrarian background, and in the botched up implementation of reservations for the Marathas and similar demands from other agrarian communities such as the Dhangars. Being fused with the everyday issues of living and with the constant backdrop of the peculiar social character of the ruling party leadership, which could evoke latent anger against the Peshwa rule, resonance for the opposition campaign did not remain confined to one numerically preponderant community.


Concerted efforts to ensure support from a wider cross-section were visible in the opposition’s, particularly the Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP), campaign tactics and ticket distribution. This has yielded benefits most visibly in western Maharashtra and also in parts of Marathwada, north Maharashtra, and Vidarbha. Leading campaigners of the NCP consisted of individuals not only from the Maratha community, but prominent emerging leaders from Other Backward Classes (OBC) such as Mali and Vanjari along with the Muslim community. Furthermore, in certain pockets of western Maharashtra, the NCP also fielded and empowered candidates from obc communities—particularly the Dhangar community—against established Maratha leaders. In Maharashtra, where the symbol of Shivaji Maharaj is a living one, efforts towards building a heterogeneous social coalition with a numerically preponderant group as a nucleus continue to find purchase, as a variant of this strategy was actually put in practice by Shivaji Maharaj himself against the entrenched privileged powers of those times. These election results have the potential to reconfigure social coalitions along these lines and that could undercut the so-called “MaDhaV” (Mali-Dhangar-Vanjari) mode of social engineering of the obcs that has been utilised by the bjp for the past three decades. Tensions in managing the MaDhaV coalition under the leadership of a Brahmin chief minister have come to the fore during this election, and the opposition’s campaign gives indications that it has begun taking steps to tap into the resentment among a section of obcs and thereby laying bare the core social character of the Sangh Parivar in Maharashtra. The modus operandi of the ruling party under the current chief minister has been to widen the rifts among different social groups in a controlled manner, coupled with the isolation of the Maratha community, and secure support from all communities in a transactional manner. Pipe dreams of a clean sweep were induced by this hubris of cunning and the perpetual management of social contradictions. Results have exposed the vacuity of this perpetual management as it stands to be threatened by the very weight of these social contradictions.


Considering these accumulating factors, the opposition did have a realistic chance of unseating the ruling party. But, due to its own lack of effort during the greater part of the past five years along with the despondency and directionlessness of the Congress party in Maharashtra, it could not succeed in this task. However, by accepting the mandate of being an effective opposition it could work towards actively producing political crises for the ruling coalition by mobilising masses of people. The coming days should be replete with possibilities for such actions as the ruling coalition already seems to have begun on a crisis-ridden note.

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