The results of the Legislative Council in Maharashtra were eagerly awaited by many politicians in both Mumbai and Delhi. To different people and different parties it meant different things. It became a prestige issue for Chief Minister Ashok Chavan to deliver in order to appease the political bosses in Delhi. For Uddhav Thackeray too it was a litmus test of his control over the Shiv Sena and the NCP too wanted to test its strength in the state. The results gave the ruling Democratic Front 7 out of the 10 seats for which polling took place and the highlight of the elections was Vijay Sawant, a Congress backed independent candidate defeating Anil Parab of the Shiv Sena. The NCP and the BJP due to effective floor strategy and co-ordination got away with electing candidates more than the number of MLAs they had.
The political climate of Maharashtra in interesting and intriguing for a variety of reasons. While the Democratic Front enjoys a majority in the Vidhan Sabha, there are many smaller groups and independents that become very important in such elections. Leading the pack is the Maharashtra Navanirman Sena with 13 MLAs, who played a crucial role in ensuring victory of Sawant over the Sena. Also, the voting trends in the assembly do not indicate political equations across the entire state. For instance, the same MNS which has voted for the DF candidates has mostly allied with the BJP and the Shiv Sena at the local level, Ambernath being a case in point. Matters can get complicated when there are BJP- Congress understandings like in Aurangabad to weaken the Shiv Sena. There are also NCP-Shiv Sena-BJP alliances at the local level. Therefore, the political scenario there is complex where loyalties change at regular periods.
The Council elections also mark a continuation of a trend seen since 2004- the domination of the Congress-NCP combine in the politics of the state. There is no doubt that the alliance is far better as far as managing numbers is concerned and this was seen recently too. Not only did the fourth Congress candidate win, the NCP got almost 30 surplus votes to ensure their third candidate also wins. The NCP floor strategy was the handiwork of Ajit Pawar, a potential leader after Sharad Pawar retires. It also means a pro- incumbency advantage especially in terms of financial clout and granting favours- something that becomes crucial in wooing independents. Even the BJP could manage ten odd surplus votes to ensure the victory of 2 of its candidates even though it was marginally short of the numbers.
The real loser therefore was the Shiv Sena, whose demise is slow, steady and imminent. In a way, the elections also proved that the BJP is now in no mood to play second fiddle to the Shiv Sena. Currently, it holds the Leader of Opposition's post in the Assembly and the Council and it wants to continue this trend. Its alliance with the Congress to secure the Aurangabad Municipal Board for itself shows its desire to end the Sena dominance in this parivar. For Uddhav Thackeray, the timing could not have been worst. Despite all Sena MLA's being hidden at a resort and even made to take an oath by Balasaheb Thackeray, the goods were not delivered. Instead, the only candidate to lose was the Shiv Sena nominee. It also affirms another important truth of Maharashtra politics- Raj Thackeray and the MNS are here to stay. Such is his clout and need that the suspension of the 4 MNS MLAs was also temporarily revoked and they were allowed to vote in the elections. It is only a matter of time before the Shiv Sena further drops its tally and is confined to being a minor player in the politics of the state.
In the long run, there are very interesting equations that could work out. Eventually, the larger battle in the state would be between the Congress and the NCP with the BJP coming distant third. However, recent trends and local level results have given the party something to cheer about. The BJP also needs to realize that Maharashtra with 48 seats is a necessary counter to West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh where they are virtually absent. In the end, the divided opposition ensure the Congress-NCP continue their hold over the state and until an effort is made, it is unlikely the hold will weaken.