The rise of BJP in Maharashtra – Pravin Nadkar

 2014 Assembly Election results in Maharashtra are indicative of the changing equations in Maharashtra’s political arena. At the time of writing this article, BJP is undecided about its choice of alliance partner and looks as though this Diwali in Maharashtra will have to go without the name plate at the CM office in Mantralaya. Voters in Maharashtra have fallen short of giving a clear majority to the BJP. Regional parties like Shiv-Sena, MNS and NCP were rejected by the voters, who gave maximum number of seats to the BJP. The party however is now compelled to find a partner among these regional forces to lay its claim to Government formation in the state. As such, BJP has done remarkably well in Maharashtra by winning maximum seats on its own. Without having a network of party cadres comparable to Congress, NCP and Shiv Sena, it has stormed other party citadels in Mumbai, Western Maharashtra, Marathwada and Northern Maharashtra. Congress fought the Elections with a losers’ mentality and the leaders of the Party were busy safeguarding their own individual vested interests. The agenda of the so called development program of the Manmohan Singh Government was successfully utilized by BJP to favorably mobilize the voters for its own victory.

Traditionally BJP in Maharashtra was known as the party of the Shetjis and the Bhatjis. Since the formation of Janata Party of which the Sangh outfit was also a part, it has taken decades for the RSS political wing in the shape of BJP to reach this powerful position in the state. Maharashtra has always vouched by the social reformist agenda of Jotiba Phule, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and Shahu Maharaj. It would have been impossible to imagine, a few years back, that forces from the Dalit movement in Maharashtra would ever join hands with BJP for any reason. NCP in the past could not have dared to make friendly gestures towards BJP, without facing a political humiliation before the people in the state. The RSS connection of the BJP leaders formerly were not convenient for them in public life but today it is nothing to be ashamed of. The RSS positions on various controversial issues relating to the view of Indian history, understanding of the national culture etc. are being supported in the political and social discussions in the media like factual statements. This is the kind of change that is impacting the politics of Maharashtra.

Never in the past the OBC communities could influence the power pattern of Maharashtra to the extent that it is happening now. The cooperative sugar factories and co-operative institutions in general have a very significant hold over the states politics. Till now this network was predominantly controlled by the Maratha lobby in the state, under the leadership of Congress and NCP. BJP stalwart in the state, the late Gopinath Munde from Vanzari community who often called Sharad Pawar his political Guru, was obliged by the NCP in the state to spread his influence over the sugar co-operatives in Marathwada and Nagar district to offset the influence of the Congress stalwarts in those regions. Vanzari community in Marathwada stands second in the region after the Maratha community in terms of its social standing. With the sugar co-operatives under the belt, this community in the region has been able to significantly undermine the political authority of Marathas organized under the leadership of Congress. The Congress and NCP both have their strong traditional social base among the dominant Maratha community. The years of congress rule in the state helped this community to become extremely powerful in the rural areas. The attitude of this community towards Dalits and OBCs has been very discriminatory at the grass roots level. The Congress-NCP Government in the state had even promised reservation for Marathas on the eve of the elections in a bid to appease them. Dhangars (shepherds) community too had asked for reservations but the Government had conveniently ignored their demands. The ploy of accepting reservation for Maratha and Muslim community did not result in getting votes for Congress and NCP but in fact it helped to galvanize the votes of the left out communities for the BJP.

The Maratha community has been at the forefront of the crimes against dalits like the infamous incidence of Khairlanji murders in Vidarbha. The Maratha community in the state has systematically denied other communities their due share of the social and political prestige besides keeping them out of reach of economic benefits. These oppressed communities have been nursing a grudge for years against the Congress rule in the state for favoring Marathas and doing nothing to uplift the status of the other communities. NCP has never come to the rescue of Dalits by punishing the guilty of Dalit atrocities, in spite of controlling the home department. Maharashtra leads in having maximum number of Muslim youths in prison without trial in India. This has been the attitude of the Congress and NCP in the state towards the Muslim minorities. The Congress in the state has always banked on the support of dalits and Muslims besides Marathas in the state for its electoral performance. The Congress Government did not take the suggestions of Sachhar Committee report towards the betterment of Muslims, seriously. The guilty police officers involved in infamous Mumbai riots of 1992 went not only unpunished but most of them actually received promotions. The Muslim community therefore was not very enthusiastic about voting for Congress. Alienation of the Dalits and Muslims from the Maratha leaders of Congress and NCP in the rural areas is also one of the important reasons for the failure of these parties to retain the political power in the state.

There was a time when Congress was known to be a staunch supporter of the liberal Nehruvian model of the mixed economy. Since Manmohan Singh Government surrendered the Indian economy to the World Bank and IMF dictates, Congress has moved away from this economic model adopting neo-liberalism. The Gujarat model as projected by Modi is the new model of economic development for the developing countries as advocated by the intellectuals from the neo-liberal camp. When Congress itself had principally agreed to do away with the social welfare model of the mixed economy, BJP lost no chance in finding fault with the old model.  In the year 2008, UN General Secretary and World Bank officials jointly declared that fighting against corruption will be our main work in the developing countries. In the year 2009 again World Bank declared its wish to seek transparency in the governance of developing countries. The BJP then came up with slogans of su-shasan (good governance with transparency) and Bhrashtachar Mukt (corruption free) society. These slogans created a huge favorable impact on people in general and multinational corporates in particular. The officials of the MNCs wanted no hurdles in their swift operations of looting Indian natural resources and establishing their supremacy in the Indian markets. Scams under the Congress Government had already brought to the fore the issues relating to corruption, favouritism and misrule with regard to sanctioning permits and allocating natural resources. Congress thus has become a symbol of bad governance, corruption and misrule. BJP gained from promoting this image of Congress and claimed to provide a Government free of these weaknesses. The so called Modi wave is actually created by a propaganda campaign unleashed in the media by the BJP think tank on these above mentioned issues. The vast majority of the middle classes in urban centers of Maharashtra too are under the spell of this national dream of corruption free Modi Government offering good governance. Even the strong Marathi vote bank of Shiv Sena had to suffer losses due to this illusory vision of the Modi Government.

The BJP cleverly popularized the term pseudo secularism in order to ridicule the concept of secularism itself. The party thus blunted the edge of the opposition towards the Hindu Rashtra concept. The practice of the Congress could easily be painted as being pseudo secular because of their hypocrisy of constantly harping on secular values in public debates and playing the soft Hindutva card in political practice. This hypocritical conduct of Congress neither pleased the majority nor the minority community. Even the broadly secular people decided to try out the Modi Government ignoring the BJP’s Hindu rhetoric. The aspirational appeal of the Modi politics in this case won against the ideological concerns against communal politics in the state. This is the reason why a lot of traditional secular vote also went in favor of BJP.

Farmers’ suicides in Vidarbha exposed the rampant practice of exploitative private money lending in the rural areas of the state. It has also highlighted the need for irrigation for agriculture. The power crises also affects the farmers because if electricity is not available at the time of watering fields then, due to inability to use the water pumps, the crops do not get timely water supply. The Government had abandoned the monopoly procurement scheme in the region and that affected the cotton growers adversely too. The BT cotton seeds need well irrigated lands but the farmers lost out on account of lack of proper irrigation facilities. Seed bags often contain useless seeds in a big proportion of the total quantity. Farmers’ meagre resources are compromised in this way due to the cheating by the seed vendors. Vidarbha in general has received less attention from the rulers and this state of its neglect, fueled anti incumbency in the region. At present, the CM candidates from the region are in the forefront of the race for the post. BJP utilized the dissatisfaction on the issues of farmers’ suicides very effectively in its election campaign. The peasants who are suffering due to the implementation of the neo-liberal policies relating to the agricultural sector readily supported BJP in a big way in many regions. Unfortunately, they do not know that a bigger onslaught on their living conditions is in the offing under the new Government following the same old policies. The low support prices offered to the cane producers by the sugar co-operative factories and private sugar factories caused the anti-incumbency in western Maharashtra.

The phenomenal rise of the real estate business in the state has impacted the political scene too. There had been a perception that the Government was being controlled by the builders lobby. The ‘Adarsh’ scam happened in this scenario. Housing problem for the ordinary citizens has become very acute and people have developed a sense of disgust towards the powerful builder-mafia-political nexus in the state. Association of the important political leaders with the ‘Adarsh’ scam further dented the image of the Congress and the case for the promised ‘Acche din” by Modi’s party became even stronger. Lot of black money from the builders lobby is finding its way into the funds of the political parties. Politics has now become mainly a source of earning money. In Maharashtra too politicians jump from one party to another without any discomfort, like at the National level. It is said that a large number of NCP members got tickets from BJP. Many of them even won the elections. This group of new entrants in BJP from NCP seems to be a block within BJP that can still be swayed by the NCP’s wishes, which declared unsolicited support to BJP for the formation of the Government. The name of Nitin Gadkari which has come forward at the last minute is indicative of the different lobbies within BJP struggling to have greater control over the party. Nitin Gadkari is known to share business interests with the NCP boss Sharad Pawar. Economic interests are thus linked beyond the political boundary lines and its reflection in politics is very complex.

We can conclude from the above factors that, it is not only the Modi wave which has worked for the electoral victory of BJP in the state but many other factors helped BJP score maximum seats in Maharashtra. Anti -incumbency worked more than the Hindutva ideological plank of BJP. The party however is not on a very strong wicket in Maharashtra. It will have to be constantly at the mercy of Shiv Sena or NCP in the state to retain its influence. The BJP will try to push the ideological agenda of Hindutva at the social, cultural and also political level. People in the state will have to ready themselves to defend progressive traditions to offset the impact of this saffron agenda. Since the Modi Government is bent upon blindly following the dictates of the imperialists controlled World Bank, IMF, etc. people have to be prepared to face further onslaught on the rights of the working people. There is no cure for inflation and price rise within the frame work of neo-liberal economic policies. People are bound to face more hardships on account of cuts in social welfare schemes, forcible acquisitions of natural resources, imposition of orthodox cultural practices and anti minority steps taken by the state. The rise of naked right wing politics is a common picture even at the global level. Since the famous declaration of the end of ideology which was made at the outset of unleashing the neoliberal policies at the global level, state itself is perceived to be the instrument of the ruling class devoid of any ideological moorings. The state under the neo-liberal spell, is wary of any grand universal commitments like poverty alleviation, reduction in economic inequalities, commitment towards natural rights over natural resources and civil rights. Nothing should come in the way of the exploitative capitalist system which has been apprised as a ideologically neutral instrument of progress. The state under neo liberal environment is meant to exist only for the smooth operations of global capital internationally. Liberal agenda of civil rights, states responsibility towards its citizens and respect for sovereignty of nations and countries is not of any concern for the international leaders of imperialist system. The Modi led BJP Government at the centre is fast learning the new ways of the neoliberal post-modern reality. It will have to maintain a public posture of being pro people and at the same time act in the interest of the capitalists and the rural elites to deprive people of their rightful share in the country’s economic growth. People in Maharashtra will have to wake up to the new methods of exploitation of the working class and peasantry. Struggles against the plunder of the natural resources, land acquisitions for private companies, changes in the educational curriculum, communalization of politics, communalization of the bureaucracy and the struggle to defend the civil rights will have to be strengthened in the state. Going back to the Congress rule in the state is not the answer to the present situation. Working class and peasantry will have to make common cause with the vast majority of the urban middle class and all the patriotic forces to unleash a new powerful movement against neoliberal economic onslaught and the right wing communal political challenge facing India.