Within a space of 10 days, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Maharashtra has managed to land two body blows to the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government. The first was the win in the Rajya Sabha elections and the second was the victory in the State Legislative Council elections.
After the BJP’s victory in Maharashtra where it won three seats in the Rajya Sabha elections, opposition leader Devendra Fadnavis declared that this was just the first step. He was clearly referring to the Maharashtra Legislative Council elections just a week away. On June 20, the BJP won five of the 10 Council seats.
The prediction was that the BJP would win four and that the NCP would get two, the Sena two and the Congress one. The Congress candidate lost and the BJP won the 10th seat.
The candidates for the Council seats from the BJP were Praveen Darekar, Ram Shinde, Shrikant Bharatiya, Uma Khapre and Prasad Lad. The Sena had put up Aamshya Padavi and Sachin Ahir. The Congress had nominated Chandrakant Handore and Bhai Jagtap and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) had fielded Ramraje Nimbalkar and Eknath Khadse.
Here is the maths. To win, each candidate required 27 votes. In the 288-member State Legislative Assembly, the Sena can call on 55 votes, which would see both its candidates through. The NCP, too, can see through both its candidates with its 54 seats. The Congress needed 54 votes but had only 44 MLAs. It needed 10 more votes to ensure both its candidates won. It would need the support of the smaller parties and independents who held 29 seats.
The BJP has 106 votes in the Assembly, so ensuring the election of four of its five candidates was a given. To get all five elected, the BJP required 135 votes, 29 more than it had. Thus, for the Congress and the BJP, the 29 votes held by smaller parties and independents in the Assembly were crucial. As it turned out, the BJP pipped the Congress to the post. In the final tally, the BJP won five seats and the MVA won five.
The two NCP candidates, Khadse and Nimbalkar, came through with 56 votes. The Sena has 55 votes and their candidates should have got all these but only 52 votes came through, indicating that three Sena MLAs had cross-voted. It was worse for the Congress as only one candidate won. Chandrakant Handore, the Dalit face of the Congress, lost.
The first indicator that things were not quite right for the MVA were the results of the Rajya Sabha election. The MVA needed 164 votes to ensure the win of its four candidates: Praful Patel of the NCP, Imran Pratapgarhi of the Congress, and Sanjay Raut and Sanjay Pawar from the Sena. But they had only 152 votes: 44 from the Congress, 53 from the NCP, and 55 from the Sena. The Sena needed 12 votes to ensure both its candidates won and was hoping to get these from the 29 votes provided by the smaller parties and independents. Instead, these went to the BJP and the Sena’s Pawar lost. The BJP’s candidates, Anil Bonde and Dhananjay Mahadik and Union Minister Piyush Goyal, won the election.
Unlike the Rajya Sabha voting, the Council elections are via secret ballot. The MVA feared that there would be horse trading. And that, it seems, was what happened.
The shocking part of this saga is the role played by Eknath Shinde, a dyed-in-the-wool Sainik. After the results were announced, he decamped with 30 MLAs of the Sena for Surat. Emissaries of the Sena are in talks with him to return, but Shinde seems adamant about splitting the Sena and bringing down the MVA.
His entire political career started with being leader of the opposition in the Thane Municipal Corporation, and he continued with a significant contribution in 2019 when he kept a hold on MLAs who looked like they might stray from the soon-to-be-formed MVA. His mentor, the late Anand Dighe, was another hardcore Sainik, and Shinde learnt well from him but stayed in the shadows until Dighe’s death. Voters from the constituency of Kopri-Pachpakhadi in Thane district have elected him consecutively since 2004. He was made Cabinet Minister for Urban Development and Public Works. He is close to Uddhav Thackeray. Given all this, Shinde’s move to Surat is inexplicable. Commentators say that Shinde is being used by the BJP as a go-between to recreate the old Sena-BJP partnership. It is being said that Shinde has been promised the Deputy Chief Minister’s post if the MVA government falls and the BJP comes back to power.
For the BJP, the two wins have been a culmination of two and a half years of dogged work. Ever since the MVA was formed in 2019, the BJP has vowed revenge. Instead of acting like a responsible opposition, it has focussed all its efforts solely on destabilising the government. For Fadnavis, this had become a matter of personal prestige. Whether or not the body blows turn to death blows for the MVA is yet to be seen.