People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIII

No. 26

June 28, 2009

MAHARASHTRA

 

What Lok Sabha Results Show

 

Ashok Dhawale

 

IN Maharashtra, the seats won by the alliance of the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls has increased by two --- while it was 23 in 2004 (this included one seat won by the Republican Party of India, Athavale group or RPI-A), it has now gone up to 25. On the other hand, the seat tally of the SS-BJP combine has declined by five --- from 25 to 20. (See the table given below.) But the distinctive feature is that the vote share of the INC-NCP alliance has declined by 3.2 per cent whereas that of the SS-BJP combine declined by 7.5 per cent. Though the INC votes have declined by 4.2 per cent, its seats have increased from 13 to 17. On the other hand, though the NCP votes have increased by one per cent, its seats have reduced from 9 to 8. The vote share of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has declined by 4.4 per cent and its seats from 13 to 9. the Shiv Sena (SS) votes have reduced by 3.1 per cent and its seats from 12 to 11.

 

THE RULING

COMBINE

The votes of the INC-NCP combine, which is currently ruling the state, have declined by 12.4 per cent in the last ten years. This reflects the growing discontent of the people with the anti-people functioning of the INC-NCP state government, which has been in power since 1999. It has been callous about issues like the suicides of thousands of debt-ridden peasants, malnutrition-related deaths of children, load-shedding of power, the plight of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the collapse of the public distribution system (PDS), the problems of unorganised workers, growing civic misery, the commercialisation of education and health services, and the rapidly growing unemployment due to global recession.

At the root of this callousness are the neo-liberal policies the combine is pursuing. Had the central government of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) not taken some steps like the loan-waiver for the peasants and the increase in minimum support price of some crops last year, the decline in INC-NCP votes would have been even sharper. The state government’s implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and the Forest Rights Act has been so lacklustre that it is unlikely to have derived any benefit from these steps of the central government. The fear of a comeback to power of the communal BJP at the centre among large sections of people, the desire for political stability in the wake of the horrifying Mumbai terrorist attacks, and the unfolding global economic crisis also helped the INC-NCP to an extent.

The greatly heightened rivalry between the INC and the NCP affected both of them adversely this time. This rivalry was aggravated by the NCP move to project Sharad Pawar as prime minister and by the poll-eve dalliance of the NCP with the SS. In some seats, the NCP and INC put up rebel candidates against each other and, in some others, they tried to sabotage each other’s prospects. The blatant use of the Maratha reservation card pushed other castes away from the NCP. Infighting within the NCP also came to the fore this time, and this was compounded by bloated over-confidence. The NCP suffered a setback due to all these factors and got a drubbing even in its sugar lobby citadel of western Maharashtra. And now it has been thrown even more on the defensive by the arrest of its senior leader, newly elected MP and former state home minister Padmasinh Patil, on a charge of murder.

 

COMMUNAL

COMBINE

But the decline in votes of the SS-BJP is more than double that of the INC-NCP. Even if we discount the four per cent votes won by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) from the 7.5 per cent decline of the SS-BJP, it still leaves a decline of 3.5 per cent.

There are four main reasons for this decline. The first is that the rabid communal propaganda led by the likes of Narendra Modi and Varun Gandhi was rejected by large sections of the people. While the BJP’s election-in-charge of Maharashtra, Narendra Modi, addressed several public meetings in the state, they had an opposite effect. Secondly, the SS-BJP could not take full advantage of the people’s discontent with the performance of the state government. Thirdly, there were unprecedented tensions between the SS and the BJP on the eve of these elections. The dalliance of the SS and the NCP deepened mutual suspicion, and this affected not only the SS-BJP but also the NCP. The intense infighting within the BJP also adversely affected it. Lastly, the MNS sealed the fate of the SS-BJP in Mumbai, Thane and Nashik districts.

Two significant regional features must be noted. First, in the peasant suicide belt of western Vidarbha and in the large cotton belt of western Vidarbha, northern Marathwada and Khandesh, the ruling INC-NCP could win only two of the 14 seats, viz Wardha and Nandurbar; all the rest went to the SS-BJP. Secondly, in Raigad district where the peasants have been leading a sustained struggle against Mukesh Ambani’s proposed 10,000-hectare MahaMumbai SEZ, both the seats went to the SS-BJP and the INC-NCP candidates were defeated. Recently, the Supreme Court has refused to give further extension to Reliance for land acquisition. In a referendum last year, 96 per cent peasants voted against giving their land to the Ambani SEZ.

The INC-NCP had a lead in 132 out of the 288 assembly segments, while the SS-BJP had it in 130. Other parties had a lead in the remaining 26 assembly segments. This is an indication that the coming assembly elections in October 2009 will be keenly fought. The role of the MNS and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and the steps that the UPA central government takes in the next couple of months, will be important factors in deciding the outcome.

 

MNS, BSP AND

REPUBLICAN GROUPS

Having broken away from the Shiv Sena, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena led by Raj Thackeray fought Lok Sabha polls for the first time and contested 12 seats --- six in Mumbai, three in Thane and one each in Nashik, Pune and Aurangabad. The MNS secured nearly 16 lakh votes in these 12 seats, which comes to 4.1 per cent. This was a result of the violent regional chauvinist campaign led by the MNS against the north Indians and of the instigation given to the MNS by the INC-NCP regime. The MNS struck a body blow to the SS-BJP and it was responsible for the defeat of the SS-BJP and the victory of the INC-NCP in at least eight seats --- five in Mumbai, two in Thane and one in Nashik --- the MNS. The SS-BJP could not win even a single seat in its stronghold of Mumbai. The MNS helped the INC-NCP in two ways --- firstly, by eating into the SS-BJP votes and, secondly, by driving the beleagured non-Maharashtrians into voting for the INC-NCP combine.

It is necessary to consider this factor seriously. Thousands of educated Marathi youth have been attracted to the MNS and most of them are first-time voters. In a time of economic crisis and recession, just as the SS was born over four decades ago, so also the MNS has taken off by giving a divisive twist to the question of unemployment and by harping on the Marathi identity. Another common feature is that the state governments of the Congress party have successively supported both the SS and the MNS --- earlier to strike at the communists and now to strike at the SS itself. This will be a big challenge before the Left.

The BSP’s votes have increased from 3.1 per cent to 4.8 per cent in the last five years. This time also, like the last time, the BSP contested most of the LS seats in the state. In the four seats of Gadchiroli-Chimur, Wardha, Nagpur and Hingoli, it scored over one lakh votes each. Even so, in the first three seats in Vidarbha, the INC was elected. It was only in Hingoli that the SS won. Due to disillusionment with the Republican factions, BSP influence in the state is growing slowly but steadily. But due to its policy of going it alone and also due to its controversial policy stands, BSP advance is more likely to become an obstacle in the path of the Left forces.

All the three candidates of the Republican factions were defeated in these elections. In Shirdi and Amravati, Ramdas Athavale and Rajendra Gavai lost although they were supported by the INC-NCP. It is clear that sections in both the Congresses sabotaged their prospects. In Akola, Prakash Ambedkar stood second after the BJP, while the Congress was in the third place. In spite of having been invited to join the Left Democratic Front (LDF), Prakash Ambedkar refused to do so and, instead, put up his candidates in both the CPI(M) seats --- Dindori and Palghar. Now Jogendra Kavade, another RPI leader, has indicated that he might go with the SS-BJP in the assembly elections. All these developments are a pointer to the disarray and opportunism in the Republican camp.

 

CASTE, RELIGION,

MONEY, MEDIA

The caste factor was used in this election in a big way. Before the elections, the NCP tried to take up the issue of reservation for the Maratha caste. This was aimed at achieving Maratha caste consolidation behind the NCP. But as saw above, it had a negative impact and drove the other castes away from the NCP. In Beed and Nashik, Marathas and others were asked to unite to defeat the OBC candidates of the BJP and NCP respectively. In Pune, open appeals were made to vote for the INC candidate because he was a Brahmin. In Shirdi, Amravati and Ramtek, all reserved SC seats, the SS led a campaign that a Hindu Dalit was better than a Neo-Buddhist Dalit. Reactionary forces also raised the demand of abrogating the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. It is a serious matter that such tendencies are gaining strength in the land of such champions of the anti-caste struggle as Jyotiba Phule and Dr B R Ambedkar.

The overwhelming majority of votes of religious minorities were cast in favour of the INC-NCP. This was the case in most parts of the country as well. It was a result of the media propaganda that the BJP is also in the race to form the next government at the centre. It was also a direct result of the rallies that Narendra Modi addressed in Maharashtra. The crackdown on the Hindutva-oriented perpetrators of the Malegaon bomb blasts also had an impact. Finally, the Mumbai terrorist attacks led Muslims to seek the ‘safe haven’ of the Congress. Sangh Parivar attacks in Kandhamal and elsewhere drove the Christian minorities to the Congress.

Money played an unprecedented role in this election. The established bourgeois parties literally poured crores of rupees in each Lok Sabha seat --- notwithstanding the economic crisis and the recession. Earlier, in each locality, money used to be given to some influential people who could bring the votes. Now giving money directly to the voters themselves is becoming an even more pernicious practice.

The same is the case with the mainstream media. The campaign of the Left candidates was almost blacked out in large sections of the press. ‘Paid news’ during election time is becoming the norm in even established newspapers in Maharashtra. Crores of rupees are spent by the main bourgeois parties in advertisements in the print and electronic media. The Left is thus automatically blanked out in most of the states.

 

LEFT DEMOCRATIC

FRONT

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) took the initiative to bring the non-INC-NCP and non-SS-BJP parties together in Maharashtra. It was decided to constitute a Left Democratic Front that would contest the forthcoming Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections. This front comprised the CPI(M), Communist Party of India (CPI), Peasants and Workers Party (PWP), Janata Dal (Secular), Socialist Front (SF), Samajwadi Jan Parishad (SJP) and the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS). The Satyashodhak Communist Party (SCP) was included later. The Bharatiya Republican Party (BRP) led by Prakash Ambedkar was invited to join, but it did not.

This front contested 12 Lok Sabha seats and supported two independents in Kolhapur and Nagpur. The break-up was as follows: CPI(M) – two, CPI – three, JD(S) – four, SSS – one, SJP – one, SF – one.

Raju Shetty of the SSS was elected from the Hatkanangale seat in Kolhapur district and Sadashivrao Mandlik, sitting MP and NCP rebel, was elected from the Kolhapur seat. Raju Shetty has led consistent struggles of sugarcane farmers and was elected MLA in 2004. Sections of the INC also supported both Shetty and Mandlik to put down the NCP in both seats. All LDF parties in Kolhapur district worked wholeheartedly for the success of both these candidates. However, Mandlik later announced his support to the UPA regime, but Raju Shetty has refused to do so.

The LDF performance in the other seats was disappointing. The CPI(M) secured 1,97,576 votes in the two seats together, a performance that was better than that of the rest. The CPI got 42,450, JD(S) got 76,205 (of these 72,738 were in one seat of Dhule) and the others got miniscule votes. The LDF did not come forth as a credible force.

The CPI(M) state committee was fully aware of the inbuilt limitations of the LDF. The party has been having electoral alliances with most of these parties for the last three decades and from time to time there had been joint struggles on issues like Enron. But most of these parties are now in a state of decline. Due to certain objective factors beyond the CPI(M)’s control, no effective joint agitations were possible in the recent past.

The last point to note is that in the 1999 LS election, the non-INC-NCP-SS-BJP parties had 10.7 per cent of the votes in the state. In 2009, the total votes of the other parties had climbed to 25.9 per cent, marking an increase of over 15 per cent. This shows that the four main parties are gradually losing their vote share and political space is opening up for an alternative. But the crux of the matter is that the Left and secular forces must strive to occupy this space by taking the lead in militant joint mass struggles.

 

THE CPI(M)’S

PERFORMANCE

 

The CPI(M) fought the Dindori (ST) seat in Nashik district and the Palghar (ST) seat in Thane district. The party led a robust and united campaign in both these constituencies. Thousands of party and mass organisation activists from Nashik, Thane and Mumbai districts worked day and night for the success of the party’s candidates. Compared to the 2004 result of the old Malegaon and Dahanu Lok Sabha seats that we fought, the 2009 result shows the following.

Dindori: The total valid votes cast here in 2004 were 5,90,772. In 2009, they increased by 90,858 to 6,81,630. In 2004 the CPI(M) had got 1,13,436 votes, i.e. 19.20 per cent of the total. In 2009 it got 1,05,352 votes, which was 15.46  per cent. There is thus a decline of 3.74 per cent. Earlier, the party had secured 63,594 votes in 1998 and 69,142 votes in 1999.

In 2009, the CPI(M) had a clear lead in the Kalvan assembly segment of 11,640 votes over its nearest rival, the BJP. In Surgana tehsil it had about 36,000 votes and a big lead, while in the Kalvan tehsil it had around 13,000 votes. In the Kalvan assembly segment the position is like this: CPI(M) – 49,164, BJP – 37,524, NCP – 28,034. In 2004, in the Surgana assembly segment the CPI(M) had a lead of 14,968 over the BJP.

In 2009, in the two assembly segments of Kalvan and Dindori --- where the CPI(M) has its main base in the four tehsils of Surgana, Peth, Kalvan and Dindori --- it secured a total of 77,827 votes. But in these two segments taken together, the NCP has 90,644 votes and the BJP has 82,419 votes. The CPI(M) came third. In 2004, it had 83,265 votes in the two segments of Surgana and Dindori. But in the delimitation the Tryambakeshwar tehsil where it has a good mass base, was replaced by Kalvan tehsil where the party is comparatively weak.

The earlier two assembly segments of Malegaon and Dabhadi have been removed and have been replaced by the two new assembly segments of Niphad and Yeola. Instead of the 14,647 votes that the CPI(M) got in Malegaon and Dabhadi, it now had 10,282 votes in Niphad and Yeola. In the other two assembly segments of Chandwad and Nandgaon, its votes have increased from 15,474 to 17,239.

Palghar: The total valid votes cast in 2004 were 6,83,353. In 2009 they increased by 49,234 to 7,32,587. In 2004 the party had got 1,18,090 votes, which was 17.28  per cent. In 2009 it got 92,224 votes, which was 12.59 per cent. There is thus a decline of 4.69 per cent. Earlier, it had secured 1,03,109 votes in 1998 and 89,459 votes in 1999.

In 2009, the CPI(M) had a big lead in the Dahanu assembly segment of 29,015 votes over its nearest rival, the INC. In both the Talasari and Dahanu tehsils which fall in this segment, it had a lead over all its rivals. In Talasari tehsil it secured 31,599 votes which mark an increase of 4,500 over 2004. In Dahanu tehsil it had 23,699 votes which also mark an increase of 3,500. In the Dahanu assembly segment the position is: CPI(M) – 55,298, INC – 26,283, BJP – 24,667, BVA – 11,631. In 2004, in the Jawhar assembly segment, it had a lead of 17,823 over the BJP.

In 2009, in the two assembly segments of Dahanu and Vikramgad where the CPI(M) has its main base in the five tehsils of Talasari, Dahanu, Vikramgad, Jawhar and Mokhada, it secured a total of 74,988 votes. In these two segments taken together, the BJP has 71,129, the INC 49,901 and the BVA 32,529 votes. Thus, here also, the CPI(M) had the lead. In 2004, it had 64,894 votes in the two segments of Jawhar and Dahanu, which cover almost the same area. Thus the votes of the party in its main base area have increased by 10,094. In the Vikramgad assembly segment also, its votes have increased by 4,000. Here in the Vikramgad and Jawhar tehsils, it stood second, but stood fourth in Mokhada and Wada (one small part) tehsils.

The Palghar seat has been severely affected by the delimitation process. This is because as many as four of the six assembly segments --- Wada, Shahapur, Bhiwandi and Igatpuri --- have been replaced by Boisar, Palghar, Vasai and Nalasopara. What is worse, the last two are predominantly urban areas. In all these new segments, the CPI(M)’s work is extremely limited and of a primary nature. In the earlier four segments, it had secured 53,192 votes in 2004. Now in the new four segments it got only 17,233. That is the main reason for the decline in its vote in 2009 compared to 2004.

 

CONCLUSIONS

AND TASKS

Though the CPI(M) aimed to get about 1,50,000 votes each in these two seats, this aim could not be achieved. It was able to maintain its base and slightly increase it in some places in both the seats. But it was not able to extend its influence in a big way.

One reason for this is that the nationwide political situation too had its impact on both these constituencies. The credit for some of the pro-people steps taken by the UPA regime under Left pressure, like the Forest Rights Act, NREGA, peasant loan-waiver etc, did not accrue to the Left in most parts of the country. We tried to take the issue of the nuclear deal and related anti-imperialist aspects to the people to some extent, but it could not reach the common people effectively. In the USA itself, the end of the George Bush regime and the ascension of Barak Obama blunted the anti-imperialist edge in the minds of large sections of the people. People did not see the third front, that we were trying to build at the national level, as a viable proposition.  Some of the developments in West Bengal and Kerala also had a negative impact. For these and other reasons the Left parties faced a grave setback in most parts of the country and this was reflected in the CPI(M) seats in Maharashtra as well.

The LDF parties that helped it in either or both seats, had either an insignificant mass base of their own or their earlier mass base had withered away over the years. Thus their help did not translate into any significant increase in votes. Almost all the votes the CPI(M) got in both these seats were on the basis of its own independent strength and influence. One may draw two conclusions from this. One, increasing the independent strength and influence of the party is a must in the days ahead. Two, the LDF should be not merely an electoral front but also a front for joint struggles.

In both Thane and Nashik districts, the CPI(M)’s image has long been that it is a party of the Adivasis only. The non-Adivasi voters generally do not identify with it and vote for the bourgeois parties. At the same time, due to its limited reach, a large section of Adivasis too is outside its fold. There is also another trend of educated Adivasi youth not being much attracted to the CPI(M). Serious attention has to be paid to remedying all these aspects in the future.

Some organisational weaknesses with regard to election technique also resulted in significant reduction in the party’s votes. Lack of polling booth committees, not checking the voter lists properly, lack of identity proof of its voters, failure to get migrant tribal voters to come back and cast their votes --- these were the prominent lapses.

On the question of the influence of caste in elections and on the issue of regional chauvinism, more clarity is necessary to give the party work a concrete and proper direction. Hence the state secretariat must prepare notes for discussion in the state committee.

The immediate political challenge before the party in Maharashtra is that of the state assembly elections that are due in October 2009. The CPI(M) state committee has to finalise the assembly seats that the party intends to fight and must begin work in right earnest to ensure that it increases its strength and influence in this battle.

Finally, it must be remembered that for a party like the CPI(M), which has to necessarily swim against the current, success in any election can come only by working hard for it --- not just for a few months but for years in advance. These election results underline the need to increase the party’s mass struggles manifold, run sustained political campaigns, activate the mass organisations, increase the number and quality of wholetimers, organise regular political classes, increase the sale of party papers and party literature, enhance the capacity for fund collection, build close relations with friendly parties and groups, increase social relations with the people and, above all, consolidate and expand the party organisation at all levels. Concrete planning towards this end has to be conceived and implemented at all levels to consolidate the party where it exists and to expand it where it does not. This is the only way to achieve an advance of the party in Maharashtra.

                         

 

                                   Performance of the Four Main Parties

 

PARTY                1999 LS                                 2004 LS                             2009 LS

                   Seats Won  Vote %               Seats Won Vote %            Seats Won Vote %

 

INC                10               29.7                      13             23.8                     17             19.6

NCP                 6               21.6                        9             18.3                       8             19.3

INC+NCP      16               51.3                      22             42.1                     25             38.9

BJP                 13               21.2                      13             22.6                       9             18.2

SS                   15               16.8                      12             20.1                     11             17.0

BJP+SS          28               38.0                       25            42.7                     20              35.2

OTHERS         4                10.7                         1            15.2                      3               25.9

Note: In the 1999 LS elections, the INC and NCP had fought separately.