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'I don't foresee any dramatic splits in the Shiv Sena'

October 23, 2009 18:07 IST
Dr Rajeshwari Deshpande, Reader in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Pune University, has written extensively on Maharashtra politics.

In an e-mail interview with rediff.com's Prasanna D Zore she analyses the Shiv Sena debacle and why the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance emerged a victor in the state a third consecutive time.

How do you read the outcome of the Maharashtra assembly results?

One can read the verdict as a Congress-NCP victory by default because:

1. It cannot be definitely seen as a positive mandate in favour of the Congress-led coalition.

2. The election was extremely localised in nature and largely issueless. The nature of electoral competition and political concerns in each constituency were different.

Is anti-incumbency a dead concept now? Despite all its shortcomings the Congress-NCP alliance proved lucky a third time. What explains the Congress-NCP victory?

To my mind anti-incumbency was conveniently invented and mainly used by the media at the start of the 1990s and has never been much useful in explaining the electoral verdicts in Indian states.

The Maharashtra election this time (along with many other state elections in the past couple of years) proves the inadequacy of the concept as the only explanatory tool.

Have Opposition parties in Maharashtra lost their relevance?

Yes. It seems that the main Opposition parties -- both the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and the Shiv Sena couldn't take up their role seriously during the past five years or so.

In the case of the Shiv Sena we may (at least partly) blame the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena -- even in the current election campaign the Shiv Sena mainly targeted the MNS rather than taking up issues.

The BJP in Maharashtra is demoralised over the years due to several reasons.

This time there was a somewhat sincere attempt on part of the RDLF (Republican Democratic Left Front, a group of Republican and Left parties formed on the eve of the assembly election) to put up a challenge to the Congress-NCP alliance, but it was not much successful though the Front got a sizeable share of votes (six per cent of votes polled).

The decline of the Left in the state's politics is a worrisome but a long-term phenomenon now.

What explains the Shiv Sena's pathetic show apart from the emergence of Raj Thackeray's MNS as the sole proprietor of the Marathi manoos legacy?

One can point to two reasons:

a. With the gradual erosion of the agenda of Hindutva and the hijacking of the Marathi agenda by the MNS the Shiv Sena did not have any strong mobilisational agenda with it for the past five years or so.

b. It did not show any awareness of its gradually increasing support among the rural centres -- especially among the rural poor Marathas of western Maharashtra and Marathwada region. It did not address their issues in the campaign and instead targeted the MNS and mainly urban voters.

A lot of political pundits are writing off the Shiv Sena. What's your assessment of the party's future?

The party's future is in flux for sure. However given the nature of political competition in the state, there is a chance for every political party to survive as political competition increases and becomes more dispersed in nature.

Will Shiv Sena Working President Uddhav Thackeray's leadership be challenged in the Shiv Sena now? Do you see a gradual or a dramatic split in the Sena given that the party has been out of power since 1999?

I think the phase of dramatic splits in the Shiv Sena is over with people like (Narayan) Rane and (Chhagan) Bhujbal moving out.

The consolidation of the Congress and NCP alliance does not provide any space for such splits.

Do you see the MNS as an alternative to the Shiv Sena and emerge powerful during the 2014 assembly election?

It depends whether and to what extent its leadership would be able to take its appeal beyond the metropolitan centres.

Do you see the NCP merging into the Congress despite strong denials by its leader Sharad Pawar?

I think it is in a way beneficial to both the NCP and the Congress that the NCP retains its independent status and does not merge with the Congress.

Do you subscribe to the allegation that the MNS is a Congress creation just like it helped create the Shiv Sena to take on the Communists in Mumbai in the 1960s?

No. Unlike the 1960s the Congress is not in a dominant position to manipulate the party system today.

What explains the overwhelming influence of the Maratha lobby in Maharashtra's politics?

There were three factors that led to the Maratha dominance in the sixties:

a. Numerical strength of the Maratha Kunbi caste cluster estimated to be around 30 per cent of the state's population.

b. Their control of agrarian and institutional resources.

c. The Bahujan Samaj ideology that the Congress popularised in that period in which the Marathas were seen as the 'natural' leaders of the agrarian masses in Maharashtra.