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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Now Maharashtra polls: Third front to play spoiler for Congress and BJP-Shiv Sena!

Elections never seem to end in India. If you have the Lok Sabha polls behind you, the Assembly elections may stare you in face.

If not, then the civic [municipal] polls, panchayat elections and then the by-elections--due to deaths of candidates or other reasons--are there to engage us.

Plus there elections of other states that also keep you interested. One of the most important and populous states of India, Maharashtra, is going to polls in a few days time.

Less than a year ago the terrorist strike in Mumbai had shocked the nation. Can one forget the then Chief Minister Vilas Rao Deshmukh during the tragic happenings and later when he took his actor son and a famous Bollywood director to the Taj Hotel. Apparently, Ram Gopal Verma wanted to make a movie but public outrage dampened their spirits then.

Soon Deshmukh was replaced. Also, the Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil was asked to vacate his chair. The enormity of the terrorist strike was such that BJP's campaign couldn't work well and it was felt that in the face of such an attack on nation, the country must stand united and there should not be any attempt to garner political mileage.

Or may be the citizens didn't just vote on the issue when the Lok Sabha elections took place later. The UPA-led Congress was voted back to power. Now BJP is a divided house and in the post-Atal and Advani era, it is facing tough times.

However, the polls in Maharashtra are going to be a real test for both the parties. Recent setbacks in by-elections in UP and Delhi apart from some other states for Congress suggested a disenchantment with the party.

Price rise is a major issue. However, NDA performed badly in Bihar. For the BJP-Shiv Sena, the Raj Thackeray-led MNS is the real opponent as it cuts into its vote share. Even in the last elections, it was the MNS that had caused the defeat of BJP-Sena in several constituencies.

But the Congress-NCP alliance is also not in an enviable situation. Sharad Pawar's party is facing a severe crisis and has lost its vote share. Congress is also a divided house. The Muslims are angry as once again they felt cheated.

In the Hari Masjid firing case, the State government again went back on its promise and stalled the move to prosecute the guilty officers who had entered the mosque and fired without any provocation.

Besides, all promises of implementing the Sri Krishna Commission recommendations proved to be blatant lies. Nothing happened. Even the Malegaon case investigation was apparently slowed down to ward off any 'Hindu backlash' in the form of votes.

The third front hasn't been taken seriously but it might play the spoiler for Congress-NCP combine. It is a known fact that followers of late Dr BR Ambedkar, especially the neo-Buddhists, Mahars, Dalits and other castes that vote for Republican Party of India's dozen-odd factions, form a solid chunk of votes.

However, their vote got divided every time. On this occasion the grand front--Republican Left Democratic Front [RLDF] is contesting the election across the state and there is no truck with the Congress. This signals trouble for the Congress-NCP.

The Samajwadi Party, the CPI-CPM, Janata Dal, Peasants and Workers Party, the Shetkari Sangathan and united RPI can spell doom for Congress. Recently, senior RPI leader Ramdas Athavale who was occupying a house in Delhi, was forced out from the bungalow as he was no longer an MP.

This 'humiliation' hasn't gone down well with the Ambedkariites and some other sections, who feel that there are dozens of Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha MPs but Athawale alone was targeted and insulted. It must be remembered that Dalit Buddhists are an important factor in the state politics.

There are nearly 60 lakh [6 million] Dalit Buddhists in Maharashtra. Besides, there is almost an equal number of Hindu Dalits, who vote for these parties. RPI has a vote share of over 10%. As the RPI factions together contest 150 seats out of 288, leaving the rest for other RLDF constituents, there are strong reasons to believe that Congress may lose the election.

We must remember that the Congress-NCP vote share was too high in the last election but there could be a severe anti-incumbency wave. Congress is banking on MNS' performance. If the latter's candidates pull votes, the SS-BJP candidates will be in trouble. Though Gavai faction has walked out, still the RLDF can't be ignored.

If the other RPI factions manage to hold its vote bank and there is anti-incumbency factor at work in the state apart from disenchantment with Congress due to price rise [it rules the state and is also at the centre, thus double anti-incumbency], the BJP-Shiv Sena may capture the power at Mumbai. Let's wait a couple of weeks for the verdict.

The polling is on October 13 and the EVMs would throw the winner's name on October 25. Till then, we can safely speculate.