May 26, 2024

The Maharashtra Lok Sabha Election Scene 2024

Ashok Dhawale

ERE’s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.” This was the refrain of Lady Macbeth in William Shakespeare’s great tragedy Macbeth.


In a different context, all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten the hands of Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, and Devendra Fadnavis, for what they and their ilk have done to the entire countryand to Maharashtra in the last ten years, and particularly to Maharashtra in the last two years.

Never in the last 77 years of independent India, and in the 64 years of the existence of Maharashtra, has the state been subjected to such crass immorality and corrupt manipulation as has been done by this BJP leadership.

And this has become one of the key issues in the 2024 Lok Sabha election in Maharashtra. Let us take a quick look at the background to the recent unsavoury events.

In the last Vidhan Sabha elections in October 2019, the BJP got a setback. The total strength of the state assembly is 288. The strength of the four major parties was as follows: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – 105, Shiv Sena (SS) – 56, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) – 54, Indian National Congress (INC) – 44. The first two and the last two had fought in alliance as the NDA and UPA respectively. Although the NDA had a clear majority of 161 out of 288, there arose serious differences between the BJP and the SS over the chief ministership.

With the initiative taken by Sharad Pawar, the BJP was trumped by an unprecedented combination of the SS, NCP, and INC, which came into power as the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA). Uddhav Thackeray was elected chief minister and Ajit Pawar deputy chief minister. The MVA government lasted for two and a half years, from November 2019 to June 2022, and handled the Corona crisis and other issues reasonably well. 

It was in June 2022 that the BJP struck back in revenge. With a combination of threats from central agencies like the ED, CBI, and IT, together with massive monetary incentives running into several crores each, the BJP broke SS leader Eknath Shinde along with 40-odd SS MLAs. Many of them were dramatically taken by cars to Surat, and then by air to Guwahati and Goa – all BJP-ruled states – and put up there in lavish seven-star hotels, before being brought back to Mumbai for a trial of strength in the state assembly.

Uddhav Thackeray, having lost his majority due to the SS split, resigned as chief minister. Eknath Shinde was promptly installed as chief minister and Devendra Fadnavis as his deputy. Others from the BJP and SS became ministers. But from the very start it was perceived as a completely immoral, corrupt, and discredited regime by the people of Maharashtra.

That is precisely why the BJP was still feeling insecure. But its response was only to compound its guilt. A year later, in July 2023, using the very same combination of threats and incentives, the BJP similarly split the NCP. Ajit Pawar and 40-odd NCP MLAs broke away. In both the instances of the SS and the NCP, the defectors and their leaders were derisively referred to as “Alibaba and his 40 Chor (thieves)”. Ajit Pawar was made the second deputy chief minister along with Fadnavis, and some others from the NCP were added as ministers.

These new events underlined in even darker colours the immoral, corrupt, and discredited nature of this regime, which for all practical purposes was led by the BJP due to its numbers.

Using its clout over the Election Commission of India (ECI), the Modi-Shah regime ensured that the SS and the NCP names and their election symbols remained with the defectors. Last week, in fact, Eknath Shinde in one of his election campaign speeches openly and shamelessly thanked Modi and Shah, and not the ECI, for bestowing this favour on them.

All these machinations vertically split the Pawar family, and also some other political families. As a result, one of the most bitterly fought election contests in Maharashtra this time is the one in the Baramati seat in Pune district between Sharad Pawar’s daughter and three-time MP Supriya Sule,and Ajit Pawar’s wife Sunetra Pawar, who is a political novice.

A few months later, in February 2024, the BJP preyed upon former chief minister Ashok Chavan of the INC, who joined the BJP and was promptly elected to the Rajya Sabha. Ashok Chavan’s father Shankarrao Chavan was the Congress chief minister of Maharashtra during the Emergency, and he was also the union home minister under prime minister P V Narasimha Rao, when the Babri Masjid was demolished on December 6, 1992. Unlike the SS and the NCP, however, no other Congress leader went with Ashok Chavan when he defected to the BJP.


How did it become possible for the BJP to bait so many fish in Maharashtra into its net? The reason has been well analysed by Deeptiman Tiwary in his excellent investigative report that appeared in The Indian Express on April 3, 2024. The title of the report itself makes things crystal clear: “Since 2014, 25 Opposition leaders facing corruption probe crossed over to BJP, 23 of them got reprieve”.

A full 12 of these 25 leaders were from Maharashtra – four each from the NCP, INC, and the SS. They are Ajit Pawar, Praful Patel, Chhagan Bhujbal, and Hasan Mushrif of the NCP; Ashok Chavan, Kripashankar Singh, Baba Siddiqui, and Archana Patil of the INC; and Pratap Sarnaik, Bhavana Gawli, and Yamini and Yashwant Jadhav of the SS. Pratap Sarnaik, SS MLA from Thane, is very close to Eknath Shinde, and targeting him was a warning shot aimed at Shinde himself.

The other 13 ‘luminaries’ from the rest of the country who crossed over to the BJP are as follows: Himanta Biswa Sarma, now BJP Assam chief minister, ex-INC; Digambar Kamat, ex-INC chief minister of Goa; Raninder Singh, son of ex-INC chief minister of Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh; Geeta Koda, wife of ex-INC chief minister of Jharkhand, Madhu Koda; Naveen Jindal, Haryana industrialist, ex-INC; Jyoti Mirdha, ex-INC; Suvendu Adhikari, now leader of opposition in West Bengal, ex-TMC; Sovan Chatterjee, ex-TMC Kolkata mayor; Tapas Roy, ex-TMC leader; C M Ramesh and Sujana Chowdary, both ex-MPs of the TDP; K Geetha, ex-MP of the YSRCP; and Sanjay Seth, ex-MP of the SP.

The corruption cases against all the above are serious, but most of them have been ‘washed clean’ by putting them through the ‘special’ washing machine of the BJP, using the ‘special’ Modi washing powder! For instance, the charges against Ajit Pawar include the Rs 70,000 crore irrigation scam and the Rs 25,000 crore Maharashtra State Co-operative Bank scam; Praful Patel has been named in the scam for the purchase of 111 aircraft for Air India, and in the Air India-Indian Airlines merger; Ashok Chavan is involved in the Adarsh Society scam for which he had to quit as chief minister; Chhagan Bhujbal is charged with scams in the Public Works Department (PWD) and in the construction of the Maharashtra Sadan in New Delhi; and Pratap Sarnaik is involved in several assorted scams and frauds.

In 2019, Raj Thackeray of the MNS had campaigned stridently across the state for the UPA, and against the NDA. But this time he was effectively silenced by the ED and other central agencies of the Modi regime, and over a month ago he meekly announced his ‘unconditional’ support for Modi, without even fighting or claiming a single Lok Sabha seat in the state.

It is thus little wonder that many political leaders, MPs and MLAs of the NCP, SS, INC, and MNS, when faced with the stark choice of going either to the BJP, or going to jail, chose the former!

However, most of these turncoat leaders have been exposed and discredited in the people’s eyes, and they are generally looked upon as betrayers and traitors. That explains the strong sympathy wave flowing across the state for the 83-year-old NCP leader Sharad Pawar, and the 63-year-old SS leader Uddhav Thackeray. Both of them, along with INC state chief Nana Patole, have stood firm against the BJP and its conspiracies. The massive rallies of the MVA that are now taking place all over Maharashtra are an indication of which way the wind is blowing.

We shall come to the role of the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) and the AIMIM a little later.


Like in the rest of the country, people’s issues like the agrarian crisis, unemployment, price rise, ration, education, health, have become burning issues in the election in Maharashtra too.

So far as the agrarian crisis is concerned, Maharashtra has for years led the country in suicides of debt-ridden farmers, as per the figures released annually by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) until 2022. According to the petition taken up suomoto by the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court, 1,439 farmers from the Vidarbha region and 1,088 farmers from the Marathwada region committed suicide in the year 2023. This was an increase over the previous year. The state is staring both at severe drought, and also unseasonal rains and hailstorms. Both have led to tremendous crop losses. Already, over 2,000 water tankers are providing drinking water daily to over 5,500 villages. These figures are certain to increase.

Onion farmers from Nashik, Ahmednagar, Pune, and other districts are up in arms against the BJP central government because it imposed a ban on onion exports in December 2023. As a result, the price got by farmers plummeted to Rs 1200 to 1500 per quintal, which was much less than the cost of production. Seeing the anger of onion farmers, the central government lifted the ban on exports in the first week of May. But it imposed conditions that the minimum export price must be 550 dollars per tonne, and the export duty must be 40 per cent. These conditions made it difficult for Indian onions to compete in the international market with onions from China, Iran, Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan. The end result was that, immediately after the lifting of the ban on exports, the price of onions got by farmers in the domestic market went up for two days to Rs 2200 to 2500; but as soon as the realisation sunk in that exports were difficult, the prices again plummeted to Rs 1200 to 1500. Onion farmers also lost hundreds of crores of rupees due to the ban on exports from December to May. The farmers’ anger was reflected in the ruckus they created in Modi’s public meeting in the Dindori constituency in Nashik district on May 15.

In the Vidarbha and Marathwada regions, the two main crops are cotton and soyabean. Lakhs of these farmers have been short changed and have got prices even below the MSP, which is Rs 6,620 to 7,020 per quintal for medium and long staple cotton respectively, and Rs 4,600 per quintal for soyabean. These prices do not even cover the cost of production. Together with natural calamities, unremunerative prices account for the largest number of farmers suicides due to indebtedness in these two backward regions of the state.

In Western Maharashtra, sugarcane and dairy farmers are facing equally serious problems. Due to the traditional one brand dairy policy in Gujarat and Karnataka, ‘Amul’ and ‘Nandini’ respectively are capturing the dairy market in Maharashtra, where the rulers have allowed several dairy brands to mushroom. A remunerative milk price for dairy farmers has always been a contentious issue, on which there have been repeated struggles.

Although Maharashtra topped sugarcane production in the country last year with 109 lakh tonnes, followed by Uttar Pradesh with 105 lakh tonnes and Karnataka with 50 lakh tonnes, the ban on sugar exports and the ban on ethanol production imposed by the central government has created havoc for the sugarcane farmers and the sugar mills. Due to the ethanol ban, an estimated 5.5 lakh litres of molasses worth Rs 3,000 crore are lying idle with the sugar mills.On the other hand, instead of using molasses for ethanol production, the Modi government decided to divert food grains for ethanol production, thereby denying cheap food grains to the starving poor in the country.


Two recent news items indicate the enormity of the unemployment problem in Maharashtra. Recruitment to the Maharashtra Police Force began from March 5, 2024, and April 15 was the last date for making applications. For 17,471 posts, as many as 17 lakh 76 thousand young men and women submitted their applications! Of these, 41 per cent were graduates and post graduates, and they included engineers, doctors, lawyers, and management graduates! In another instance, 1,800 jail guards were to be recruited in Maharashtra. There were over 3 lakh 72 thousand applications for the same! These are all official government figures. The implementation of the MGNREGA in Maharashtra is notoriously poor for the last several years.

One more issue that has gained traction in these elections is that several industries and other large projects, which had earlier been earmarked for Maharashtra, were shifted to Gujarat, due to the pressure of the Modi-Shah-led BJP regime. This has led to great resentment, because it means an axe on employment opportunities and on the prospects of development.

It is these two aggravating phenomena – the agrarian crisis and unemployment – that have led to tremendous social unrest which is reflected in the demand for reservation in education and employment. The burning issue of reservationfor the Maratha caste must be seen in this context. The upper crust or creamy layer of the Maratha caste has historically been a politically and economically dominant section in Maharashtra. But the agrarian crisis and unemployment have played havoc with all social groups in the state, and Marathas have been no exception. A huge statewide agitation of Marathas for reservations began before the Covid pandemic. It was recently revived under the leadership of one Manoj Jarange-Patil.

Last month, on April 4, the report of the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission (MSBCC), led by retired Justice Sunil B Shukre, became public. An earlier MSBCC headed by retired Justice M G Gaikwad had submitted its report in 2018. The 2018 Commission surveyed 43,629 families from two villages each of 355 tehsils with more than 50 per cent Maratha population. The 2024 Commission surveyed 1,58,20,264 families across the state on a massive scale and found that Marathas constituted 28 per cent of the state’s population.

Some of the main findings of the 2024 Commission as regards the Maratha community were as follows: 43.76 per cent of women and 44.98 per cent of men are involved in manual labour for a livelihood. There is an alarming rise in the girl child marriage rate, from 0.32 per cent to 13.7 per cent in the last six years. The representation of Marathas in government services has declined from 14.63 per cent in 2018 to 9 per cent in 2024. Landlessness in the Maratha community has increased from 8 per cent in 2018 to 31.17 per cent in 2024. There is a drastic increase highlighting a severe community crisis as the share of Marathas in farmer suicides has gone up from 80.28 per cent in 2018 to 94.11 per cent in 2024.

Space does not permit a detailed discussion of the Maratha reservation issue, which is a complex one. Suffice it to say that the BJP-led state government in March 2024 adopted legislation in the state assembly providing for 10 per cent reservation to Marathas, over and above the existing 62 per cent reservation in the state, which already includes a 10 per cent quota for economically weaker sections (EWS). However, this did not satisfy the Maratha stir leaders who wanted reservation from the OBC quota. This is strongly opposed by the OBCs. It is not clear if the latestlegislation will be accepted by the Supreme Court, which has earlier struck down similar legislations. The political point to note is that this agitation has set the Marathas against the OBCs in the state, especially in the Marathwada region. This social divide will have its ramifications in the Lok Sabha elections.


So far as education is concerned, the NDA state government in February made some reactionary changes in the Right to Education (RTE) provisions. It directed through a circular that RTE admission to private schools for children of economically weaker and deprived sections would not be given if these private schools were within a one Km radius from government schools or granted schools. Under the RTE Act private schools must reserve 25 per cent of their seats for such poor children. The state government’s decision was clearly a violation of the RTE Act. Fortunately, the Bombay High Court on May 6, 2024 struck down the state government’s circular which it said was a violation of the fundamental right of citizens.The state government has also ordered the closing down of hundreds of government schools.

The state government’s ham-handed handling of the recent statewide agitations and strikes of the Anganwadi workers, the ASHA workers, and Mid-Day Meal workers, was widely condemned. The government betrayed lakhs of these poor women, refusing to give them anything substantial. This exposed its reactionary attitude to the working class of the state. No efforts have been made to increase public investment in, and improve the government health care services, despite the disastrous experience of the Covid pandemic. 

While the centre has been crowing that it is giving 5 Kg grain per head per month free, it hasdiscontinued the entitlements of cheap food grains through the public distribution system (PDS), throwing crores of beneficiaries at the mercy of the market. The state government also refuses to spend a single paisa of its ownfor the PDS. New ration cards are not only not given, but thousands of existing and genuine ration cards have been cancelled under the false plea that they are bogus. As a result, malnutrition is growing throughout the state, in both rural and urban areas. Malnutrition-related child deaths in tribal areas are on the rise.

The impact of all these sins of commission and omission of the BJP-led central and state governments will be reflected in the results of the Lok Sabha elections in Maharashtra.  


The 2019 Lok Sabha election result for the 48 seats in Maharashtra was as follows: BJP – 23seats (27.84 per cent votes), SS – 18 seats (23.5 per cent votes), Total NDA – 41 seats (51.34 per cent votes), NCP – 4 seats (15.66 per cent votes), INC – 1 seat (16.41 per cent votes), Total UPA – 5 seats (32.01 per cent votes), AIMIM (Aurangabad) – 1 seat (0.73 per cent votes), Independent (Amravati, later pro-BJP) – 1 seat (total of all independents and other smaller parties 3.72 per cent votes), Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA- Prakash Ambedkar) – 0 seats (6.92 per cent votes), total – 48 seats (100 per cent votes).

This one-sided result of 2019 was similar to that in many other states in the country, and owed much to the jingoism created by the Modi regime around the Pulwama and Balakot incidents. An additional negative factor in Maharashtra was the VBA-AIMIM alliance putting up all 48 seats, the AIMIM narrowly winning only one, the VBA winning none but polling a substantial almost 7 per cent of the vote. The VBA was squarely responsible for the NDA winning, and the UPA losing, at least 10 Lok Sabha seats in this election. Its clear purpose was to help the BJP. The RPI led by Ramdas Athavale is, of course, a part and parcel of the NDA, and throwing Dr B R Ambedkar’s teachings to the winds, Athawale is part of the union ministry led by Modi.

In 2024, the MVA held a largely-attended press meet in Mumbai on April 9 and declared its seat distribution as follows: SS (Uddhav Thackeray) – 21 seats, INC – 17 seats, NCP (Sharad Pawar) – 10 seats. In contrast, there was tremendous infighting and tensions in the NDA, and it was not until three weeks later on May 2 that the final NDA seat distribution became clear, but without the NDA daring to take a press meet to announce it. It was as follows – BJP – 28 seats, SS (Eknath Shinde) – 15 seats, NCP (Ajit Pawar) – 4 seats, Rashtriya Samaj Party – 1 seat.


In the 2024 election, there are the usual factors that favour the BJP-NDA. The most important is, of course, the overarching communal Hindutva consolidation that it has tried to achieve over the last one decade by harping on issues like the successful construction of the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya, the enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and its rules, the entire Kashmir question, the Uniform Civil Code, and its constant campaign of inciting hatred against Muslims, led by no less a person than Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself.

The second factor is the concerted BJP campaign across the country to reach out to, and influence, the lakhs of beneficiaries of its various schemes. The BJP is carrying out this outreach in a very systematic manner.

The third point is the massive combined power of corporate money and media, and organisation, that the BJP has been displaying in every election in the recent past.

And the fourth and last point is the extremely dubious role of the Election Commission itself. There is no need to dilate on what that implies.


In spite of all the above factors that favour the BJP-NDA, it is most unlikely that in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP-NDA will be able to repeat, or come anywhere near its 2019 performance. Some of the main reasons behind this conclusion have been analysed in this piece earlier, like the anti-incumbency discontent on people’s issues, the public revulsion against the corrupt and immoral acts of the BJP-NDA, the sympathy wave in favour of the original SS, NCP, and MVA, and so on.

The second element is the caste equations. How they will actually play out in each seat and region will of course differ. But overall, as analysed above, since the dissatisfied Maratha-Kunabi caste cluster is likely to generally vote against the BJP-NDA, the latter are making concerted efforts to rope in the OBCs to vote for it. Similarly, it has been an old game of the BJP to attract Hindu dalits, because it has never been sure about neo-Buddhist dalits. For the latter, defence of the constitution of which Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar was one of the main architects, against the nefarious attempts of the BJP-RSS, has become a major issue now. The minorities, namely Muslims and Christians, are fully with the MVA this time.

Thirdly, it is also unlikely that the VBA will be able to play the spoiler role like last time, since people have generally seen throughits game, and there is now no alliance between the VBA and AIMIM. The VBA this time tried to pull wool over people’s eyes by staging a drama of negotiating with the MVA for several weeks. The MVA declared that it was willing to give the VBA four, or even five, Lok Sabha seats. But the VBA kept on changing its positions, and as expected, eventually broke with the MVA and, like in 2019, put up its candidates in several seats. The hypocrisy of the VBA is evident from the fact that its leaders loudly attack the BJP in words, while actually helping it in deeds. Some leading Marathi newspapers in their editorials have now openly ascribed this dubious VBA role to financial dealings with the BJP. 

Fourthly, the formation and consolidation of the MVA in the state since 2019, and of the INDIA bloc in the country in 2023, has led to a new enthusiasm which has been fuelled by the discontent of the people around their rising problems and by their anger against the corrupt immorality of the BJP and its servile partners in Maharashtra. Except for one seat Sangli, the MVA constituents in Maharashtra have generally gelled very well and are working in unity.

Fifth, even so far as the media is concerned, this time several popular independent media outlets and YouTube channels are being seen by lakhs of people, giving a stiff competition to the corporate Godi media, andexposing its increasing loss of credibility. Also, several social organisations have come together and have hit the streets by organising their own public meetings and other imaginative programmes under different banners, like the ‘Nirbhay Bano Andolan’, ‘Nirdhar Maharashtracha (Determination of Maharashtra)’, and so on.

By the time this piece appears in print, the fifth and last phase of voting in Maharashtra will have been completed on May 20, 2024. To sum up, it surely seems to be advantage MVA-INDIA, which should be able to win more than half the 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra this time, as against only five seats which the opposition had won in the state in 2019. That in itself would be a big and significant advance in this crucial nationwide battle.