With only 22 months to go for the assembly elections in Maharashtra, political parties are scrambling to make their presence felt and start wooing the voters.
With two leaders — Sena chief Bal Thackeray and former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh — off the political arena, the equations are set to change. A banner put up in the Churchgate subway after Thackeray’s demise read: “Now, we realised why they said the world will end in 2012.”
If the sentiments of his supporters translate into a sympathy wave, the Maharashtra politics may see unexpected results in the 2014 assembly elections. If Thackeray’s funeral procession of over 10 lakh supporters is anything to go by, other parties should start worrying. Thackeray ruled the hearts of millions of people of Maharashtra for nearly 46 years, since the party was formed. But he ruled the state only for five years between 1995 and 1999 with its ally, the BJP. With 2004 and 2009 elections disappointing the Sena-BJP combine, it is now hopeful to cash in on the sympathy wave.
This has not dimmed the aspiration of the Nationalist Congress Party to become the
single largest party in the assembly elections. The party, under its state-level leader Ajit Pawar, got a shot in the arm when it bagged the maximum number of seats in the zilla parishad, panchayat samiti and gram panchyats at civic-level elections early this year. On the contrary, its ally, the Congress, suffered a major setback as it lost its top position in the civic elections.
Ajit takes pride in openly claiming that the number of MLAs and MPs and key leaders from other parties at various levels are in touch with him and may join him before the election. Dhananjay Munde, nephew of BJP leader Gopinath Munde, and Shiv Sena MP Anand Paranjape joined the NCP ahead of the civic elections early this year.
Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, who shot his mouth off on the eve of the BMC elections, helped the Shiv Sena mobilise its vote bank. Chavan had said the Shiv Sena and its chief would be ‘inconsequential’ after civic election. In saying this, Chavan might not have imagined that it would help Sena gain votes on sentimental grounds. The Sena retained power in the BMC although the number of seats decreased.
The chief minister, who has been criticised for slow decision-making in the first 18 months of his tenure, found himself in the dock after the Congress’s debacle in the civic elections. Numerous reports speculated about he being replaced. However, with three former chief ministers under the scanner over the multi-crore Adarsh scam and a strong backing of the party high command, Chavan not only retained his chair but made his position stronger.
Chavan mooted the idea of a white paper on irrigation, the portfolio headed by the NCP for more than 13 years. The Rs80,000-crore irrigation scam helped Chavan have an upper hand over his closest rival and his deputy Ajit Pawar.
The scam was a burning issue for six months and many irrigation-related irregularities surfaced and subsequently weakened Ajit’s position. Cornered, Ajit put in his papers on September 25 after a series of media reports. His 72 days without the power revealed the widening rift between Ajit and NCP chief Sharad Pawar.
The entire episode strengthened the position of Chavan, who is now assumed to be the leader who can lead the party in 2014 elections. Ajit was re-inducted in the cabinet as deputy chief minister two days ahead of the winter session that started on December 10.
The sudden demise of former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh on August 14 created a vacuum in the state Congress and Marathwada. The party has no other leader to lead the party from the front in the general and assembly elections in 2014.
Besides Ajit, incumbent water resources minister Sunil Tatkare, public works department minister Chhagan Bhujbal and minister of state for Transport Gulabrao Devkar were also charged with corruption. Tatkare was targeted by the BJP for floating more than 200 illegal companies dealing with illegal land of crores of rupees.
Unreasonable cost escalation in the irrigation projects too brought him under the scanner. Illegal allotment of contracts and favours done to the contractors in Maharashtra Sadan project held Bhujbal accountable. Devkar is the key accused in Rs38-crore Jalgaon housing scam.
The cases related to scams involving all the four NCP leaders may pose trouble to the party. Corruption charges against medical education minister Vijaykumar Gavit and MSRDC chief Jaydutt Kshirsagar (both from NCP) and alleged involvement of school education minister Rajendra Darda (Congress) in the coal scam may lead to setback for the parties.
The next six months will be challenging for the government as the entire Marathwada has been facing acute water scarcity and the CM has termed the situation ‘unprecedented’.
The government has demanded Central funding of Rs2,200 crore to cope with the drought situation.
Though 22 months are left for assembly elections, the state administration will get 19 months — excluding three months of code of conduct of two elections — to pull up its socks. With most development projects lagging behind and no major policy decision taken in the last three years, the ruling coalition may find it difficult to face the voters.