Analysis: Behind BJP's "Pawar" Move, Its 2024 Plan For Maharashtra

Analysis: Behind BJP’s “Pawar” Move, Its 2024 Plan For Maharashtra

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The change of political dynamics in Maharashtra works to the advantage of the BJP and its push to consolidate its Maratha and OBC support base before the polls.

Analysis: Behind BJP's "Pawar" Move, Its 2024 Plan For Maharashtra

The BJP’s move to bring in Ajit Pawar and eight other NCP MLAs into the Maharashtra government comes at a time the party is holding a series of meetings to strengthen its organization and narrative, reaching out to present and former political allies, and leaving no stone unturned to try and wrest maximum seats in the 2024 Lok Sabha election.

The change of political dynamics in Maharashtra works to the advantage of the BJP and its push to consolidate its Maratha and OBC support base before the polls.

Maharashtra’s significance comes from the fact that it accounts for not just the largest GDP in the country but is also the most industrialized state. It is also the second largest contributor of MPs (48) after Uttar Pradesh (80). With the BJP losing Karnataka, and specifically Bengaluru to the Congress, it is even more important for the BJP to retain Maharashtra and Mumbai, which have seen many political upheavals in the last two years.

With just nine months to go for the polls, it is only predictable that politics will take over governance. Sunday’s developments are part of a concerted attempt by the BJP to set aside differences with small parties such as the NCP and move forward keeping 2024 in mind.

With Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde leading the official Shiv Sena now and a large section of the NCP backing Ajit Pawar, at least for now, the BJP seems to be putting together a stronger, more formidable force for 2024 than in 2019.

More Regions Covered

With the influential faces of NCP and Shinde on its side, the BJP also aims to cover more geographical areas electorally. Vidarbha has always been its biggest strength, and with ministers such as Uday Samant, Narayan Rane, Sunil Tatkare, and Dilip Kesarkar in Konkan, Chhagan Bhujbal in Nashik and the onion belt, Dhananjay Munde in Beed and Marathwada and Ajit Pawar’s clout in western Maharashtra, the BJP hopes to cover more ground this time. With a part of the NCP backing it, the BJP hopes to make inroads into at least 12 Lok Sabha constituencies that used to be the NCP’s stronghold, mostly in western Maharashtra, including Pune, Satara, and others.

The biggest challenge remains the actions and consequences of 82-year-old Sharad Pawar’s announcement that he will rebuild the party with people’s support and that “what has happened is not new for him.”

The move is expected to have a significant impact on opposition unity that showcased Maharashtra’s MVA government as an exemplary model to take on the BJP. Sharad Pawar himself had emerged as one of the most important drivers of a national alliance against the BJP.

Maratha votes

In the assembly elections of 2019, the NCP increased its seats in the state assembly to 54 from 41 in 2014, by playing on Maratha pride in a campaign projecting Sharad Pawar as the tallest Maratha leader and showing an Enforcement Directorate notice to him as an example of harassment by the Centre.

Maharashtra has around 35 percent Maratha voters and around 50 to 52 percent OBCs. It was the Maratha votes – dominant in western, north Maharashtra, and central Maharashtra – and Sharad Pawar and NCP’s power to win them back that impacted the BJP’s tally in 2019, compared to the 2014 elections. The Marathas, one of the most important and influential communities in Maharashtra, constitute around one-third of the state’s population. The community dominates the cooperative sector, particularly with sugar mills, and forms an important part of the agrarian and rural economy of the state. Nearly 12 chief ministers of Maharashtra till now were from the Maratha community.

From 2014 to 2019, the BJP enjoyed strong support of the Marathas besides maintaining its traditional vote base of OBCs. The support enabled the BJP to win numerous local bodies, including corporations. To consolidate their position, the party brought in reservations for Marathas in education and jobs and even appointed Maratha leaders in top positions. But Sharad Pawar worked hard to get these voters back, getting his local units to reach out to the youth, specifically during floods, and, with a string of promises, making it about “Delhi versus Maharashtra.”

But now, with Maratha leader Eknath Shinde as Chief Minister, and another Maratha, Ajit Pawar, on its side, the BJP is working to expand its organizations, besides making inroads into the erstwhile bastions of these parties. The BJP state unit has already assigned ministers to tour the state, covering at least four districts in a month. The focus is to rejuvenate its 97,000 booths and maximize its outreach, with at least 30 workers each working full-time.

Challenges before the BJP

There are challenges too, for the BJP. The legal battle surrounding Eknath Shinde’s disqualification is one. The others include how the joint campaign will look like and be justified, given at least four of the nine NCP MLAs face money-laundering cases.

BJP leaders such as Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis have often attacked the NCP over corruption allegations. The Shinde faction had ascribed its revolt against Uddhav Thackeray to Ajit Pawar. It won’t be easy to get them to campaign, and share seats and responsibilities together, specifically as Ajit Pawar, seen as an experienced administrator, will be working under Shinde.

The NCP’s entry into the Maharashtra ruling alliance also makes it important for Eknath Shinde and the Shiv Sena led by him to prove their electoral worth and relevance in the State. With the crowd getting bigger, not many Shinde Sena MLAs are likely to be considered for 14 ministerial vacancies, so the BJP also faces the challenge of not letting resentment seep into the Shinde faction, and keeping the flock together. Fissures in the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance were recently exposed following the row over an advertisement, which appeared in several newspapers and projected Shinde as more popular than Fadnavis. The BJP will also have to get Shinde-Pawar to work with smaller allies such as Prahar Janshakti Party, RPI, and others.

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