Decline of Indian National Congress in Maharashtra

Decline of Indian National Congress in Maharashtra
By: Faheem Usmani Qasmi

Once again a curious election, littered with many dominating political parties, is going to take place in Maharashtra after few days. It is exciting that Maharashtra is going to witness a direct battle between two heavy-weights coalitions. The BJP and Shiv Sena are stretching on one corner, while the Congress and NCP are warming up on the other corner for a tough bout. For much of the last 20 years, Maharashtra’s politics has revolved around these two alliances, with both sides having enjoyed power at least once.

In this battle once again Sharad Pawar, Maharashtra’s tallest leader for nearly 50 years, is fighting hard to give his Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) a new twist. This fight will be cut-throat for the Indian National Congress (INC) as the party is in declining position in the state–Maharashtra.

Maharashtra has a love-hate relationship with the Congress party that has seen many rise and fall post Maharashtra was formed in 1960. Indeed if there is one state that perhaps best demonstrates the decline of the Congress and the rise of the BJP, it is Maharashtra. Maharashtra is a state where a non-Congress opposition has never won a majority on its own.

The Congress party enjoyed a nearly unchallenged dominance of the state political landscape, until 1995 when the coalition of Shiv Sena and The BJP secured an overwhelming majority in the state, beginning a period of coalition governments. Shiv Sena was the larger party in coalition. From 1995 until 2014, the NCP and INC formed one coalition while Shive Sena and the BJP formed another for three successive elections which were dominated by INC-NCP alliance.

But after Congress emerged as grand party in the state from a new low in the post-Babri period when a communally charged atmosphere eroded traditional vote banks, once again it was wiped out in the metropolis by the Modi wave in 2014.

There may be many factors for Congress decline in Maharashtra during its journey from the largest party of the state towards shrinking to the small one. It is true that politics has left its original sense particularly in last decade as religious polarization has been legitimized in today’s politics. So the Congress has a big challenge in this aspect to stand strong in this tough battle.

The disputes between Sharad Pawar and the INC president Sonia Gandhi also gave the party a big jolt as the state’s political status was upset when Pawar defected from INC which was perceived as the vehicle of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.

The other factor is that social churning among non-Maratha OBC groups found more space within the BJP and Shive Sena as the BJP put together an alliance of upper castes, the other backward class (OBC) and to some extent the Dalit to fight the Maratha-led Congress and NCP. One of the major factors particularly in 2019 assembly elections is Maratha leadership deserting the Congress for the BJP.

The current Fadnavis-led government has already shown an unconditional determination to demolish its all oppositions through artful political management. The Congress-NCP is far away in the list to accomplish its victory because of its past unfulfilled promises. Moreover, where the Congress high command did not empower state’s leaders, the BJP has given an absolute autonomy and authority to Fadnavis, the present Chief Minister of Maharashtra.

One bigger challenge for the Congress in Maharashtra is that state elections here have generally been held in the same year as the Lok Sabha elections. Hence, the impact of Lok Sabha elections results on the state’s elections can’t be ignored. The record of around 25 years shows that the Lok Sabha elections by and large set the tone and tempo for Maharashtra assembly elections except in 1999 when a BJP national win was followed by a Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) alliance government in the state. The data shows that voting trend in one is closely related to the other.

Similarly the BJP’s sweep of Maharashtra in the 2019 Lok Sabha will play a key role in its return to power with a thumping majority because BJP’s performance in last general elections in Maharashtra ahead of its assembly elections, suggests that there will be a repeat performance.

In the 2014 Assembly elections, BJP along with its longstanding ally – the Shiv Sena, got 47.2% of the vote share to win 185 out of the 288 seats. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the coalition improved on its performance to gain 51% of the votes to win 41 out the 48 seats.

In the wake of such challenging situation and its declining epoch, it would not be a cup of tea for Congress to win the assembly elections of Maharashtra as it used to be in earlier decades. Rather it would be a very tough fighting with its all opponents mainly with BJP which is the largest political party in the modern history of India.

So the Congress, before jumping into arena, has to recover its lost glory in the state realizing the factors which pushed the party back in the battlefield of the assembly election of 2014 and the recent general elections of 2019. It has to overcome all the causes and factors of its decline to contest the elections otherwise the end result is obvious that the BJP is rapidly dominating the entire country.

The writer is research executive at MMERC