People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
May 23, 2004
Maharashtra Lok Sabha Polls End In Stalemate
Forces Must Consolidate To Prevent
Comeback In Assembly
IN an article in these columns on the pre-election scene in Maharashtra (see People’s Democracy, April 11, 2004), we had identified the factors that would influence this election as follows:
“From the standpoint of the crucial necessity of defeating the communal forces, the positive aspect is that, after much dithering, the INC and the NCP have at last concluded an alliance … But this positive development of an INC-NCP alliance has been countered by a major negative one. That is the remarkably poor and lacklustre performance of the INC-NCP state government over the last four and a half years. Needless to say, the performance of the BJP-led central government is even worse, as has been relentlessly documented in these columns. How all these factors eventually weigh up in the scales of public opinion will decide the outcome of the coming Lok Sabha elections in Maharashtra.”
FATE OF THE MAIN
The play of the above contradictory factors ensured that the Lok Sabha elections in Maharashtra ended in a stalemate, with a slight advantage to the SS-BJP communal combine. This is a serious development, since state assembly elections will be held in just another four months, in September 2004. We shall first take a look at the overall results of the Lok Sabha elections in Maharashtra, basing ourselves on the official figures released by the Election Commission of India.
The Shiv Sena-BJP communal combine won 25 of the 48 seats, which marked a decline of three seats from their tally of 28 seats won in 1999. The SS tally this time was 12 out of the 22 seats that it had contested, a loss of three seats; whereas the BJP retained its earlier tally of 13 of the 26 seats that it had contested.
In terms of votes, however, the BJP increased its share by 1.42 per cent, from 21.18 per cent to 22.60 per cent; and the SS increased its share by 3.26 per cent, from 16.86 per cent to 20.12 per cent. Thus, the SS-BJP combine increased its vote share by 4.68 per cent, from 38.04 per cent in 1999 to 42.72 per cent in 2004.
The INC-NCP alliance won 23 seats (including the RPI seat supported by them), which marked an increase of four seats from their tally of 19 seats (including three seats of allies supported by them) won in 1999. The INC tally this time was 13 of the 26 seats that it had contested, a gain of three seats; and the NCP tally was 9 of the 18 seats that it had contested, also a gain of three seats.
However, there was a considerable vote swing away from the INC and NCP compared to the last election. The vote share of the INC declined by 5.95 per cent, from 29.71 per cent to 23.76 per cent; and the vote share of the NCP declined by 3.27 per cent, from 21.58 per cent to 18.31 per cent. Thus, the vote share of the INC-NCP alliance fell precipitately by 9.22 per cent, from 51.29 per cent in 1999 (when they had fought separately) to 42.07 per cent in 2004 (when they fought as an alliance). This was marginally less than the 42.72 per cent of the SS-BJP combine. It is thus clear that had the INC-NCP not hung together this time, they would surely have been hanged separately.
AFFECTS THIRD FRONT
So far as the third front was concerned, the five parties comprising the front, viz PWP, CPI(M), CPI, SP and BBM (led by Prakash Ambedkar) contested 34 seats against both the SS-BJP and the INC-NCP. Due to the strong polarisation, the front lost both its sitting seats which, however, had been won last time in alliance or adjustment with either the INC or the NCP. The PWP netted more than 2,80,000 votes in the Kolaba seat but lost narrowly to the Congress. In the other seat of Akola, the BBM got over 1,87,000 votes, but came third after the BJP and the INC. The SP candidate in the Sangli seat, a noted freedom-fighter who also controls a well-run sugar factory, secured more than 1,37,000 votes but stood third.
In two other seats, the third front got more than 1,00,000 votes, and both these were fought by the CPI(M). These were the Dahanu (ST) seat in Thane district and the Malegaon (ST) seat in Nashik district. Although the CPI(M) stood third in both these seats, there was a definite improvement in its performance compared to the last election. In the Dahanu seat, the Party increased its votes by around 29,000, from 89,000-odd in 1999 to 1,18,090 in 2004. This marked an increase in voting percentage from 13.55 to 17.28. In the Malegaon seat, the Party increased its votes by around 44,000, from 69,000-odd in 1999 to 1,13,436 in 2004. This marked an increase in voting percentage from 10.58 to 19.20. In the given circumstances, this was a positive feature, although the results fell short of expectations. In the third seat contested, viz Wardha, the Party did not fare well, getting 14,823 votes.
Thus, the total votes won by the CPI(M) in Maharashtra in this election came to 2,46,349, which marked a 75,000 increase over the 1,71,000-odd votes won in 1999. In terms of voting percentage, this marks a small rise from 0.52 to 0.72, but is still less than 1 per cent of the total state votes.
In 10 other seats, the third front parties secured between 20,000 and 42,000 votes each. But the sharp polarisation between the SS-BJP and the INC-NCP resulted in the third front getting only about 4 per cent of the total votes cast.
Before and after these elections, BJP hoodlums unleashed physical attacks against CPI(M) cadres in the Talasari tehsil of Thane district and the Surgana tehsil of Nashik district, in both of which the CPI(M) has its sitting MLAs. The police of the INC-NCP state government have arrested and lodged cases under section 307, 395 etc against hundreds of CPI(M) cadres, while leaving the BJP goons largely scot-free.
The unexpected feature of this election was the strong showing put up by the BSP, especially in six constituencies in Vidarbha where it garnered between 50,000 to 1,00,000 votes each. In another 8 seats, it secured from 20,000 to 30,000 votes each. The BSP vote share went up sharply from 0.32 per cent in 1999 to 3.06 per cent in 2004, which comes to nearly 10 lakh votes. The BSP contested as many as 46 of the 48 seats, and although it did not win any, it paved the way for the victory of the SS-BJP candidates in as many as 10 Lok Sabha seats by splitting the secular vote of Dalits, who do not generally vote for the communal combine.
The regional picture in Maharashtra shows great variations. Electorally, Maharashtra is generally divided into the following six regions: Mumbai city (6 seats), Konkan (5 seats), Khandesh (6 seats), Western Maharashtra (12 seats), Vidarbha (11 seats) and Marathwada (8 seats).
The biggest gains for the SS-BJP combine were in Vidarbha and Marathwada, the two backward regions of Maharashtra. In Vidarbha, with the sole exception of the Nagpur seat that was won by the Congress, the SS-BJP combine swept the other 10. In Marathwada, with the exception of the two seats of Beed and Hingoli that were won by the NCP, the SS-BJP won the remaining 6. Among the prominent losers here were the former Lok Sabha speaker Shivraj Patil, former MPCC chief Prabha Rau and former state minister Shrikant Jichkar (all INC), NCP leader Praful Patel, BBM leader Prakash Ambedkar and RPI leaders R S Gavai and Jogendra Kavade. The silver lining was the convincing defeat of the BJP candidate in Gopinath Munde’s home district of Beed and the equally stinging defeat of the BJP candidate in Nagpur, which houses the RSS headquarters.
The biggest setback for the SS-BJP combine was of course in Mumbai city, where the Congress won 5 of the 6 seats and the SS was left with just one. Among those humbled in Mumbai were BJP union ministers Ram Naik and Jaywantiben Mehta, BJP leader Kirit Somaiya, former Lok Sabha speaker and former chief minister of the Shiv Sena Manohar Joshi and another virulent Sena leader Sanjay Nirupam. Apart from Mumbai, other major cities like Pune, Nashik, Kolhapur and Nagpur also rejected the SS-BJP, which, however, could retain Aurangabad and Solapur.
Western Maharashtra, with its sugar belt and co-operative structure, has traditionally been a bastion of the INC and NCP. They managed to retain 10 of the 12 seats here, but many of them with greatly reduced margins. But here also there were two upsets. The Solapur seat was lost by the Congress to the BJP for the second time within a year, and this time the loser was the wife of the current chief minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, with a wafer-thin margin of about 6,000 votes. The other seat of Khed in Pune district was lost by the NCP to the SS.
In the other two regions, viz Konkan and Khandesh, the results were mixed. In Konkan the score was 3-2 advantage SS-BJP and in Khandesh it was 3-3.
The CPI(M) Maharashtra state committee will meet in the first week of June to review and analyse the election results in detail. But some major preliminary political conclusions can be drawn from the results given above.
DISCONTENT WITH NDA REGIME
Firstly, the discontent of the people with the communal drive and economic policies of the BJP-led NDA regime was in evidence everywhere. It was graphically seen in the results in large cities like Mumbai, Pune, Nashik, Kolhapur and Nagpur, which the SS-BJP used to consider as its citadels. The ‘India Shining’ and ‘Feel Good’ campaign was decisively rejected by large sections of the working class, the middle class and even small entrepreneurs, all of whom were at the receiving end of the LPG policies that were recklessly pursued by the NDA regime. The minority communities and large secular sections of the majority community as well voted overwhelmingly against the communal combine. There is a large Gujarati middle class in Mumbai, and the big discontent against the BJP seen in Gujarat in these elections was also reflected in the Mumbai results. The Shiv Sena’s recent attacks in Mumbai on North Indians, mainly those hailing from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, also served to alienate this sizable section.
ANTI-INCUMBENCY AGAINST STATE GOVT
Secondly, the identical economic policies and poor performance of the INC-NCP state government was the most important single factor that prevented a full-blown manifestation of the above discontent with the NDA regime from emerging in the election results in Maharashtra.
The way the state government dealt with the grim drought situation in 11 districts of Marathwada and Western Maharashtra, the chronic neglect of irrigation and water management, the repeated tariff hikes and load-shedding in the power sector coupled with the drive towards its privatisation, the deepening crisis devastating cotton and sugarcane peasants leading to their indebtedness and suicides, the watering down of the employment guarantee scheme and the public distribution system, the neglect of the land question especially in the tribal belts, the rapidly growing number of factory closures and the rampant commercialisation of education and health – these were the major reasons for the strengthening of the anti-incumbency factor against the INC-NCP government throughout the state. Apart from this was the long-simmering discontent amongst the people of the backward regions against the chronic neglect of their development and the widening regional imbalances. It was these factors that led to the INC-NCP losses in Vidarbha and Marathwada and to the 9 per cent decline of its votes all over the state.
Thirdly, the failure to consolidate all secular forces in Maharashtra in this election and thus prevent the splitting of the secular vote also had a negative impact. Although the INC-NCP were mainly responsible for this failure, since they made no serious efforts to evolve an understanding among all secular forces, some sections in the third front were also averse to making any such efforts. When it became clear that a common secular front was not on the cards, the Left had argued within the third front for contesting only a minimum number of seats where the third front constituents really had some mass base. The three Left parties implemented this understanding, with the PWP, CPI(M) and CPI contesting four, three and one seats respectively. But the BBM contested 17 seats and the SP contested 14 seats – in four seats they even contested against each other. In many of these seats their performance was poor, but it nevertheless divided the secular vote.
But as mentioned above, it was the BSP which fought on its own in 46 seats that was far more responsible for the split in the secular vote. The BSP performance in this election is a phenomenon that requires deeper analysis. Actually, the first indication of it was seen two years ago in the Nagpur municipal corporation elections in 2002, when the BSP had won over 10 seats on its own. The growth of the BSP is a clear indication of the increasing disillusion of the Dalit masses with the opportunist, fractious and individualist leadership of the various Republican parties. But considering the even more opportunistic stands of the BSP national leadership vis a vis the communal BJP in the past, this new trend does not augur well for the state. It also underlines the need for the Left and secular forces to take up socio-economic issues of the oppressed Dalit masses and to wage an ideological campaign amongst them with far greater vigour and consistency.
DIVISIVE DEMANDS REBUFFED
Fourthly, the results of these elections have rebuffed divisive demands like that for a separate Vidarbha state. As mentioned above, while there definitely is legitimate discontent in the backward regions of Vidarbha and Marathwada against the neglect of their development, the election results by no means show that this discontent is aimed at separatism. This can be seen from the following concrete examples. The self-styled leader of the movement for a separate Vidarbha and the founder of the Vidarbha Vikas Party, Banwarilal Purohit, could poll a mere 28,000 votes in the Nagpur seat. Significantly, this was a seat which Purohit had won a couple of times earlier, once as a candidate of the Congress and once of the BJP! All the Republican leaders who were proponents of a separate Vidarbha also lost their seats in Akola, Amravati and Chimur. On the other hand, despite publicly opposing the formation of a separate Vidarbha, the Shiv Sena won four seats in the Vidarbha region. In the Ramtek constituency, Congress leader Shrikant Jichkar, who is one of the few Congressmen to have consistently opposed a separate Vidarbha state, lost by just 14,000-odd votes, and that, too, because the BSP candidate there got over 55,000 votes.
CHALLENGE OF ASSEMBLY POLLS
Finally, there is the question of the immediate future – the elections to the state assembly which are due in September this year. Analysing the present results, it is seen that the SS-BJP, apart from gaining a slender lead in the number of Lok Sabha seats, have also got a lead in the number of assembly segments. It is obvious that the communal combine will make an all-out bid to return to power in the coming assembly elections in Maharashtra.
If the new Congress-led central government with the outside support of the Left takes some immediate measures in the interests of the common people, if the INC-NCP state government checks its long drift and actually implements some urgent steps to benefit the masses – and, most important, if the consolidation of secular forces is achieved before this election and the split in the secular vote is minimised, the communal forces can be made to bite the dust of defeat once again, as they were forced to do at the national level.