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Maharashtra Polls: Continuity amidst Social Volatility

Maharashtra Polls: Continuity amidst Social Volatility

The outcome of the Maharashtra assembly elections of 2009 cannot be associated with any particular moment in the history of the state's politics; nor can it be attributed to the organisational prowess of the ruling alliance. The second consecutive electoral victory of the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance is an outcome of four factors: the overall favourable political atmosphere created by the Congress' performance nationally in the Lok Sabha elections, the utter ineffectiveness of the Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena combine coupled with their internal party factionalism, the rise of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena in urban constituencies, and a perception that the state government had not done a bad job.


Maharashtra Polls: Continuity amidst Social Volatility

Suhas Palshikar, Rajeshwari Deshpande, Nitin Birmal

effect of delimitation and the urban factor (Pawar 2009). One could add to this the factionalism within the BJP (see report in Daily Sakal, Pune, 23 October 2009, p 6) and inept leadership of Uddhav Thackeray, working president of the Shiv Sena (see report in Daily Loksatta, 23 October

The outcome of the Maharashtra assembly elections of 2009 cannot be associated with any particular moment in the history of the state’s politics; nor can it be attributed to the organisational prowess of the ruling alliance. The second consecutive electoral victory of the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance is an outcome of four factors: the overall favourable political atmosphere created by the Congress’ performance nationally in the Lok Sabha elections, the utter ineffectiveness of the Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena combine coupled with their internal party factionalism, the rise of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena in urban constituencies, and a perception that the state government had not done a bad job.

Suhas Palshikar ( and Rajeshwari Deshpande (rajeshwarid@ are with the Department of Politics at University of Pune and Nitin Birmal ( is with the Dr Ambedkar College, Yerwada, Pune.

ery few states in recent history have elected the same party/coalition three times in a row. Maharashtra joins that small group of states, Bihar (Laloo Prasad’s Janata Dal/Rashtriya Janata Dal), Delhi (Congress), West Bengal (Left Front), Orissa (Biju Janata Dal) and Gujarat (Bharatiya Janata Party-BJP) being the other states. For each of these, there are state-specific explanations and trajectories. Opponents of each of these governments may dispute the tall claims about the “achievements” of the incumbent governments as explanations for their ability to retain power. In many cases, however, simplistic expectations that the governments would automatically fall under the burden of anti-incumbency and low performance levels have rendered the outcome with a tinge of being counterintuitive. The recently concluded elections to the Maharashtra assembly similarly throw up a challenge – when most observers believed that the state government had not done anything really exemplary, why did the people vote for the same parties that have been in power for last one decade? How did the opposition manage to lose in spite of the less than enthusiastic support for the Congress-led government? Was this mere arithmetic? Was this an instance of defeat of the opposition rather than victory for the government? More importantly, what does this outcome imply for the party system in the state?

Ever since the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) coalition posted a decent victory on 22 October, many unfounded or half-baked arguments are being dished out by the losers and even by commentators. The most common being that the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) spoiled the chances of the Shiv Sena (SS) and BJP (see statement by Gopinath Munde, Daily Loksatta, 28 October 2009). Other initial explanations include the

november 28, 2009

2009, p 4). In this backdrop, we shall first look at the election result, comparing it with 2004 and Lok Sabha results of 2009. We shall then turn to the findings from survey data from post-poll conducted after the recent assembly elections. The third section tries to make sense of the electoral success of the Congress and NCP. Finally, the outcome of the assembly elections is situated in the larger context of Maharashtra politics of the last couple of decades.

Bipolar Nature

Electoral competition in the state continued to be bipolar with the two alliances being the main contenders. Initially, the Congress did make some noises about contesting elections independently, but that was more as a bargaining counter and finally, the two Congress parties entered into a pre-election alliance. Congress contested 170 seats and NCP 113. The Congress alliance had left two seats for its Republican Party of India (RPI) ally – the faction led by Gavai (Daryapur in Vidarbha and Dombivli in Mumbai-Thane region). They also did not contest two seats in Vasai where the Bahujan Vikas Aghadi was contesting and NCP did not field a candidate from one seat though the seat was allotted to it (Ulhasnagar) – all three being in Mumbai-Thane region. In case of the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance, the BJP contested 119 and Sena contested 160 seats. The Shiv Sena did not contest four seats in Raigad district so as to facilitate the victory of the Peasant and Workers Party (PWP) there; it also did not contest the Vasai seat to ensure the defeat of the candidate of Hitendra Thakur’s Bahujan Vikas Aghadi. It did not file candidates in four constituencies in western Maharashtra. In Islampur, Shiv Sena supported the candidate of the third front and in Palus it supported NCP rebel against the Congress heavyweight Patangrao Kadam. In two other constituencies in Kagal and Radhanagari, Shiv Sena

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supported the Swabhimani party’s candidate. The Lok Sabha election had alerted everyone to the possible importance of MNS in this election (it contested 143 seats) while on the other hand, the BSP was very low key and almost invisible in this election. Though it did field candidates in 281 constituencies, its vote share went down to a mere 2.4%. Following the defeat of Ramdas Athvale of RPI in Lok Sabha (he was then supported by the Congress-NCP), he took the initiative to forge unity among Republican factions and also forge a third front consisting of a large number of smaller parties, mainly the communist parties, the PWP, Janata Dal (Secular) JD (S) and Samajwadi Party (SP) apart from some RPI factions. This third front, named as Republican Left Democratic Samiti (RLDS) hoped to gain from the unity of smaller groups and attract anti-government vote. Bahujan Mahasangh of Prakash Ambedkar stayed away from RLDS and so also Jan Surajya Shakti led by Vinay Kore. All these details show how the election promised to be complicated and multipolar.

Table 1 gives the detailed result of the assembly election. In an assembly of 288, 234 seats have been won by the two main alliances, and smaller parties have seats. Among the 23 independent candidates, many are in reality rebels from different parties – three are Shiv Sena rebels and one is a BJP rebel. Three elected MLAs are Congress rebels and 11 are NCP rebels.

The NCP managed to win 55% of the seats it contested while the Congress won 48% of the seats. In case of the Sena-BJP alliance, both lost heavily, but BJP has a better rate of success (39%) compared to its partner (28%). In the assembly elections of 2004, the two Congress parties had won 140 seats with another four seats won by their allies. In that sense, the result of this election looks pretty much as a continuation of the 2004 election. Also, in the Parliamentary election of 2009, the two

Table 2: Retention of Leads from LS to Assembly

Increasingly, election results in Maharashtra make sense only when disaggregated at the regional level. This is because of the varied strength of different parties in each region and also because of the politics of coalitions that forces each party to cede some territory to its alliance partner. In this sense, the election outcome does not necessarily reflect the true strength of the parties.

Table 2 shows how leads in assembly segments in Lok Sabha elections altered/ translated into success in this election. Overall, 32% wins of the Congress came in assembly segments where the Sena-BJP combine had leads in the Lok Sabha election while the same figure for NCP was 48%. In other words, the political situation in

INC NCP BJP SS MNS Other Parties IND Total

INC 44(56) 8 13 5 5 3 78

NCP 8 19(37.3) 5 10 3 1 5

BJP 10 16 18(28.6) 10 1 2 6

SS 16 14 05 14(23.0) 2 3 7

MNS 1 7 08

Other parties 3 1 2 1 06 2 15

IND 1 4 3 3 1

Total 82 62 46 44 13 17 24

Rows show leads in Lok Sabha as distributed as per assembly wins in relevant constituencies while columns show assembly wins of each party in terms of leads in Lok Sabha in relevant constituencies; figures in parentheses show retention rate for major parties.

Table 3: Assembly Result by Regions

Total Turnout Congress NCP BJP Shiv Sena BSP MNS Others Regions Seats Won Vote Won Vote Won Vote Won Vote Won Vote Won Vote Won Vote

claimed 31 seats, out of which 12 went to North Maharashtra 35 62.3 6 15.1 9 22.3 4 13.4 7 20.6 0 1.8 3 5.2 6 21.5

West Vidarbha 30 64.0 12 26.5 3 8.7 5 16.6 5 13.8 0 3.3 0 1.5 5 29.5

the RLDS – four each to PWP and SP, one

East Vidarbha 32 65.5 12 29.3 1 6.1 14 28.7 3 8.4 0 6.3 0 0.6 2 20.6

each to Bahujan Mahasangh of Prakash

Marathwada 46 67.9 18 22.5 12 19.1 2 14.8 7 17.3 0 2.6 1 2.4 6 21.3

Ambedkar, the Communist Party of India

Mumbai-Thane 60 49.5 18 20.0 8 10.4 9 11.0 9 20.1 0 1.3 8 19.7 8 17.5

(Marxist), Rashtriya Samaj Paksha and

Western Maharashtra 70 66.2 14 17.7 24 22.7 11 10.0 9 14.2 0 1.2 1 3.1 11 31.0

Swabhimani party of Raju Shetty. The

Konkan 15 68.3 2 20.9 5 19.0 1 5.5 4 23.3 0 1.5 0 3.1 3 26.7

RLDS polled approximately 5% of the votes.

Total 288 62.1 82 21.0 62 16.4 46 14.0 44 16.3 0 2.4 13 5.7 41 24.3 Among the smaller parties, the largest Source: CSDS Data Unit.

share went to the MNS led by Raj Thackeray.

Table 4: Vote Share of Parties by Regions – Lok Sabha and Assembly 2009 (in %)

His party was contesting assembly elections Konkan Mumbai-Thane N Maharashtra W Vidarbha E Vidarbha Marathwada W Maharashtra LSLA LS LA LS LA LS LALSLA LS LA LSLA

for the first time and managed to win 13

Congress 26.6 15.3 26.4 21.6 12.5 15.6 16.1 24.6 31.1 29.6 18.8 23.3 19.6 17.9

Table 1: Maharashtra Assembly Election 2009

Seats Contested Won Vote %
Congress 170 82 21.01
NCP 113 62 16.38
Shiv Sena 160 44 16.26
BJP 119 46 14.02
MNS 143 13 5.69
JSS 37 2 1.27
BBM 103 1 0.83
GGP 21 0 0.13
BSP 281 0 2.35
RLDS 286 12 5.35
BVA 4 2 0.32
LSG 1 1 0.16
IND 1822 23 15.23
Other parties 303 0.86
Source: CSDS Data Unit.
Economic & Political Weekly november 28, 2009
NCP 9.7 17.6 12.0 10.5 24.8 21.7 10.3 10.0 9.7 6.0 20.7 18.3 19.3 23.0
BJP 7.2 8.3 12.8 11.7 34.0 14.1 9.1 14.4 25.7 27.5 22.6 14.9 18.2 9.5
SS 37.0 20.1 17.2 20.6 3.8 20.0 33.3 16.3 5.8 8.2 20.3 16.7 17.0 14.4
MNS - 3.5 20.7 21.5 5.2 5.1 - 1.5 - 0.8 - 2.3 4.1 3.2
BSP 2.0 1.5 3.3 1.3 2.6 1.8 5.9 2.5 11.4 6.6 6.1 2.5 4.8 1.2
Others 17.6 26.7 7.8 17.5 17.0 21.5 25.4 29.5 16.3 20.6 11.5 21.3 17.1 31.0

Source: Compiled from CSDS Data Unit.

Congress parties had mustered a lead in 129 assembly segments and therefore, it could be argued that they actually managed to improve their condition in the interval of six months. However, beneath this overall impression, there is a lot of churning at the regional and constituency level that has taken place in shaping this result.

vol xliv no 48

most parts of the state has been quite volatile and no party can claim to have a firm base in most parts of the states. This is perhaps clearer from an analysis of the result at the regional level. Table 3 reports the result of the assembly election by regions and Table 4 compares vote percentages polled by major parties in


each region in Lok Sabha and assembly elections. Even if we make allowance for seat adjustment due to the alliance factor, Table 4 shows considerable fluctuations in vote share across parties in each region. In Konkan, NCP has gained mainly at the cost of the Shiv Sena; while contrary to general impression, Shiv Sena has actually gained in the Mumbai-Thane region. Real gains for the Congress have accrued in west Vidarbha and partly Marathwada. All these details beg a question: are support bases of different parties in the state stable or is their popular support contingent in nature?

Vote Divisions

We may perhaps begin to answer this question by first looking at the urban-rural divide. This is because of two reasons: in the first place, ever since the latest delimitation exercise took place, much has been said about urban constituencies getting numerical ascendance in the assembly. Maharashtra is one of the most urbanised states of India and by now nearly half of its population may be already living in urban locations. Thus, a party that gains upper hand in the urban locations is more likely to sway the electoral outcomes in the future. Second, historically, Congress (and so also are all from urban constituencies. Yet, it is interesting to note that both Congress and Shiv Sena have around the same proportion of their MLAs (35% and 34%, respectively) belonging to urban areas and BJP is by far the most dependent on urban MLAs since 39% of its MLAs are from urban constituencies. Also, the hold of Congress-NCP on rural areas is much more secure even today with over 58% rural constituencies belonging to these two parties. In other words, growing urbanisation need not necessarily endanger the chances of the Congress while Sena and BJP have not been able to dent the Congress-NCP in their rural bastions. This holds the key to the success of the Congress and NCP in the state. This can also be seen from survey data: Table 6 shows how the voters in different locations voted in the assembly election. A large majority among the voters of big urban centres appears to be in favour of the Congress coalition, but ironically, our data shows that two out of every three voters of the BJP and Sena are from rural areas. This means that the initial support

Table 5: Assembly 2009 Results by Urban-Rural

U R Mix Total
Congress 29 35 18 82
NCP 09 36 17 62
BJP 18 18 10 46

that these parties received from urban voters when their coalition first came to power has been lost in the course of the last decade. This perhaps explains the repeated failure of these parties since 1999 to beat the Congress.

However, the urban-rural dimension is not the only one where this instability in electoral support is on display. One finds that in the case of the most crucial factor in state politics – the social base – too, there is considerable churning taking place. The study of Lok Sabha election of 2009 had indicated that Marathas are more inclined in favour of the Shiv Sena (Deshpande and Birmal 2009: 139). After an interval of six months, but more due to the micro-processes that are often at work during an assembly election, we find some volatility in the social bases of parties. For instance, Marathas were much more fragmented this time: this is not exactly a new development. Ever since the NCP was formed, Maharashtra has witnessed a fragmentation of the Maratha-Kunbi caste cluster. It is another matter that Congress as well as the Marathas have retained power despite this fragmentation (Palshikar and Birmal 2003). As Table 7 shows, Congress gets greater support among upper castes, dalits and other non-dalit/non-OBC castes.

the NCP) are seen as rural-based parties SS 15 16 13 44 Support for the NCP is evenly spread across

where the social base of the representatives Others 23 17 14 54 all sections effectively meaning that it is

and the interests protected by them are supposed to be predominantly rural and the rise of Shiv Sena and BJP was at one stage seen as having its roots in urban constituencies (Vora 1996; Vora and Palshikar 1996).

Subsequent political developments however caution us against believing that BJP and Shiv Sena draw support only or

Total 94 122 72 288

Urban – More than 70% Urban population as per 2001 Census. Rural – More than 80% Rural population as per 2001 Census. Mix – Rest. Source: Lokniti Delimitation Data.

Table 6: Vote Preference by Location – Assembly 2009

(in %)

Metro Towns Rural T
Congress+ 51 40 34 37
BJP+ 26 32 30 30

losing the advantage among Marathas. The Shiv Sena and BJP were unable to rely on any social group as their core base; except the (non-Kunbi) OBCs, though Shiv Sena, rather than the BJP gets more than average votes among the upper castes. The limitation of the NCP is that it does not get additional support among Marathas

mainly from urban areas. While in 2004 MNS 16 10 2 6 while the Congress’ constraint is that it
Lok Sabha and assembly elections were Others 7 18 30 27 does not get extra support either among
indications enough of the frailty of the N 174 438 991 1603 Marathas and OBCs or among adivasis;
urban support for these parties, local elec- N denotes totaSource: Assem l bly post-poll su number of respondents. rvey;1 all fig ures except in even among dalits, its support is not very
tions in 2002 and 2007 provide further bottom row are percentages. high. Given these constraints, the associa
evidence of the volatility of electoral base Table 7: Voter Preference by Caste Grou p – Assemb ly 2009 tion between caste, community and pref
of main parties across the urban-rural (in %) erence for any party become considerably
divide (Palshikar and Birmal 2009a). In Upper Maratha Kunbi OBC SC ST Others Total weak. It is only in the case of the Muslims

the latest assembly election, as Table 5 Congress 29 16 18 26 18 37 21 that the Congress and NCP perhaps claim

shows, there is a keen tussle among main NCP 12 19 16 1517 15 16 to have really strong support – 50% and

parties of the state for the urban constitu-BJP 11 14 20 1010 814 17% of the Muslims support the Congress Shiv Sena 19 17 20 12 15 7 16

encies. This competition has been compli-and NCP respectively. Ten per cent Muslims

Others 29 34 26 37 40 33 33

cated further by the entry of MNS whose support the BJP while 7% support the Shiv

N 143 418 466 210 232 120 1589

appeal is more attractive among the urban Sena. Our data also shows that gender is

Source: Assembly post-poll survey; all figures except in bottom population and whose MLAs (except one) row are percentages; OBC – other backward classes. almost a non-player in shaping the voter

november 28, 2009 vol xliv no 48


preferences – support among men and women is almost equal in the case of Congress, NCP, BJP and MNS; while in the case of Shiv Sena, support among women is much less (14%) than among men (18%).

Surprising as it may seem, Congress appears to be attracting middle income sections more than the poor; while its partner the NCP draws more support among the rich (Table 8). In contrast, the BJP draws a little more support from the lower half of the class ladder and Shiv Sena pins its hopes more on the lower

Table 8: Class Base of Parties – Assembly 2009 (in %)

Rich Middle Lower Middle Poor Very Poor Total
Congress 18 22 25 18 22 21
NCP 23 17 14 16 13 16
BJP 10 12 14 18 16 14
Shiv Sena 12 15 19 17 15 16
MNS 11 10 3 2 - 06
Others 26 24 25 29 34 27
N 213 494 373 335 189 1604

Source: Assembly post-poll survey; all figures except in bottom row are percentages.

middle section. But more importantly, the stout refusal of the very poor to be the core base of any of the main political players is very noteworthy. Incidentally, MNS receives a large share of votes from the upper income sections – almost its entire support comes from these sections.

Government Performance

Critics of the 10 year-old Congress-NCP government were unanimous that the government had not done much to improve the conditions of the poor and generally failed to register impressive development. Critics would always compare the performance of the state government with Gujarat to bring home the point that the state government could ensure neither industrial development nor agrarian progress. The string of suicides by the farmers was another issue that the opposition and critics of the government would mention repeatedly. In response, the ruling parties relied on citing the amounts that the government allocated for various sections; the packages that the government framed for different segments of the society; various schemes of the central government that would bring further “development”, etc. Even non-partisan sentiment in the state was that the government had squandered an opportunity to imaginatively engage with issues of social

Economic & Political Weekly

november 28, 2009

contestation and governance. When the shows that both Congress and NCP have
Congress posted a decent performance in lost votes since 1999 but that is more
the Lok Sabha elections, it was mostly because in 1999 they had fought inde
attributed to the emergence of MNS and pendently while since 2004, they have
consequent erosion in the support for Shiv entered into a coalition and hence con-
Sena and BJP in Mumbai-Thane region. tested lesser number of seats than in 1999.
While the explanation could hold for this Between 2004 and 2009, however, NCP
election too, one needs to explain how has lost over 2% of the votes which should
Congress and NCP managed to defeat Shiv be a cause for concern to it. This also has
Sena and BJP in rest of the state. Table 4 the potential of altering the internal equa
draws attention to the fact that after the tion within the Congress-NCP alliance.
parliamentary election, Sena-BJP could Even in the case of Shiv Sena-BJP coali
not make much improvement in their tion, we find that the vote share has not
electoral performance – except a slight changed much from 1999; though here
improvement in Mumbai-Thane region too, Shiv Sena has lost in comparison to
(which did not help in terms of seats) and 2004. Moreover, the loss of the two par
in eastern Vidarbha, Sena-BJP vote share ties did not go to their major established
declined everywhere else irrespective of rivals. For instance, the NCP vote did not
whether the Congress-NCP improved theirs go to Congress and there is also not
or not. This situation alerts us to the possi enough evidence that the Sena vote was
bility that anti-government or anti-incum lost to MNS. Rather, the votes of these two
bency vote may have got divided among losers mostly went to the rebels and
various contestants – among the main smaller parties. Thus, Maharashtra’s polit
opposition comprising the Shiv Sena and ical scenario displays a curious blend of
BJP, the other parties and so-called inde electoral stability, limited levels of satis
pendents, most of whom were rebels of faction and a lot of social volatility.
the Congress and NCP. Table 9: Vote Shares of Major Parties – 2004 and 2009
This is not exceptional since larger Assembly Elections (in %)
parties tend to lose more votes to smaller and local players in an assembly election 1999 2004 2009 Congress 26.85 21.1 21.0 NCP 22.52 18.8 16.4
compared to Lok Sabha elections. At the BJP 14.42 13.7 14.0
same time, we need to remember that Shiv Sena 17.02 20.0 16.3
Congress-NCP lost only 2% of the votes
while Shiv Sena and BJP together lost This is where one needs to go back to
5% of the votes since Lok Sabha election the possible comparison of Maharashtra’s
of 2009. This peculiar factor was observed outcome with the states that have re
in 2004 as well. Then, while the Congress elected the government twice. Bihar under
NCP lost 3% votes from Lok Sabha to JD-RJD must be seen separately since
assembly the Sena-BJP lost over 9% of Laloo’s victory was occasioned by the OBC
the votes during the same interval moment in the politics of Bihar and thus is
(Palshikar and Birmal 2009b: 110-19). So, somewhat different from the situation of
the larger lesson seems to be that while the other states where the sitting govern
generally there is a fragmentation of anti ment got elected twice. West Bengal and
government vote, Congress-NCP have a Gujarat stand out mainly because of the
greater capacity to retain their vote share strong party organisation in those states
from parliamentary to state elections. In which helped the state governments to get
all likelihood, much of the local anti- elected; Maharashtra’s outcome was not
government vote goes to the rebels rather thus associated with any particular moment
than established opposition parties – which in the history of state’s politics; nor can it
again hints at the weakness of the Shiv be attributed to the organisational prowess
Sena and BJP despite their two-decade of the ruling alliance. Congress’ victory in
long efforts to displace the Congress from Delhi may be attributed to a combination
the state. of two factors. On the one hand, the main
Another striking feature is the relative opposition, BJP has been in disarray there.
stability of vote share of the four major At the same time, policies and governance
parties over the last one decade: Table 9 in Delhi have managed to draw support
vol xliv no 48 45

both from upper classes and the poor. In Orissa too, the state government has succeeded in drawing support from both these sections. Maharashtra is perhaps a mildly similar case of this: the state government

Table 10: Perceived Economic Condition and Vote Preference

Cong+ BJP+ Others All

Improved 42 29 29 42

Same 36 31 33 45

Worsened 30 31 39 13

Source: Assembly post-poll survey; all figures except in last column are in row percentages; N=1557.

Table 11: Satisfaction and Vote for Congress-NCP

Cong+ BJP+ MNS O All

Fully satisfied 63 11 2 25 21

Somewhat satisfied 42 25 5 29 40

Somewhat dissatisfied 27 39 5 29 15

Fully dissatisfied 10 52 15 23 17

No Opinion 30 47 2 21 7

Source: Assembly post-poll survey; all figures except in last column are in row percentages; N=1604.

in objective terms may not have much to show, but it seems to have managed to create a sense of limited satisfaction among the voters. This same tension between objective conditions and subjective perceptions is evident in people’s assessment of their own economic condition: only 13% of the respondents from our survey said that their (their family’s) economic condition had worsened during the past five years; 42% thought it had improved and another 45% said it had remained the same. The association between this perception and vote preference also appears to be quite neat: those who felt their condition had improved tend to vote more for the Congress-NCP (Table 10). Our survey also shows that as against 32% of the respondents who were dissatisfied with the performance of the state government, 61% were satisfied. This is no mean achievement considering the criticisms of the objective economic conditions of the state. Not surprisingly then, 47% of the respondents felt that this government may be given another opportunity to rule the state. We also find a very strong and neat association between satisfaction and vote for the Congress-NCP (Table 11). Does this mean that Congress and NCP have acquired a social profile that will take them further in their popularity and also build pressure on them to adopt pro-people policies?

Reasons for Victory

The consecutive electoral victory of the Congress and NCP is an outcome of three or four factors: the overall favourable political atmosphere created by the Congress performance nationally in Lok Sabha elections, the utter ineffectiveness of the BJP-Shiv Sena coupled with their internal party factionalisms, rise of MNS as a rival of BJP-Sena in urban constituencies, and a perception that the state government had not done a bad job. However, it is difficult to attribute the outcome entirely to the performance of the Congress-led government in the state. Moreover, the Congress-NCP alliance has not evolved any sharp social profile over the last decade or so. In the previous section we have seen that Congress and NCP cannot boast to draw support from any particular caste group nor do they have a clear class base.

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november 28, 2009 vol xliv no 48


In this connection, it is instructive to take a look at the social profile of the voters of different parties. Table 12 shows the share of different social segments among the voters of each party. The profile of Congress voters shows that it may be becoming a rainbow party in the state – without much identity. In caste-community terms, a fourth of its voters are OBCs and that is a characteristic that the party should have consolidated long back. On the other hand, Congress seems to be losing its long time base among dalits. Besides, limited support from the poor could be a matter of concern for the Congress. Thus, while it may become a rainbow coalition, that rainbow could have strong shades of the middle classes rather than the lower half of the society. Yet, the moderate proportion of Maratha-Kunbis can prove to be advantageous for the Congress in the state for repositioning itself – for long, the state Congress was identified with the stronghold of the Marathas. While even today, the political establishment of the Congress continues to be dominated by the Marathas, the fact that only 20% of its voters are from that community can encourage the Congress to effectively think of socio-economic initiatives for its own and the state’s rejuvenation. Ironically, the credit would go to the Shiv Sena and the NCP if the Congress is free from the burden of the Maratha interests.

Over the last two decades, Shiv Sena offered political asylum to Maratha leaders disgruntled within the Congress and also attracted a substantial share of the Maratha vote. Since 1999, the NCP too has done the same. Today, NCP has as large as 30% of its vote coming from the Maratha community

– nearly making it a party dependent on that vote. The tension that is visible between NCP’s Maratha leadership and

Table 12: Social Profile of Voters of Parties

Congress NCP Shiv Sena BJP MNS All
Upper caste 13 07 11 07 08 09
Maratha-Kunbi 20 30 27 26 36 26
OBC 25 29 36 43 37 29
Dalit 16 12 10 09 08 13
Adivasi 13 15 13 10 02 14
Muslim 16 07 05 03 03 07
Rich+Middle 43 50 41 37 80 44
Poor+Very Poor 30 30 33 40 08 32
Women 45 44 37 43 40 44
Urban 48 39 40 35 76 38

Source: Assembly post-poll survey; all figures in percentages.

Economic & Political Weekly

november 28, 2009

OBC leaders is also rooted in its voter profile – almost as many OBCs as Marathas are NCP voters. The NCP has consistently evaded taking a pro-OBC position and thus, there is every possibility that the party may lose the OBC vote to Shiv Sena or BJP. In sharp contrast to 2004, NCP, this time around, has become too much of a party of the establishment – half of its votes come from the rich and the middle classes. This leaves BJP to shape itself as a party of the OBC and the poor – though given the slender vote share of the party generally, this does not mean to be of very great significance in terms of immediate political equations in the state. If there is one political party whose electoral base has regularly undergone shifts over the last decade or more, it is the Shiv Sena. Since the Sena has occupied the opposition space, the volatility of its support base has also meant that overall social bases of parties in the state have failed to stabilise over the last decade. This development has been exacerbated by the emergence of the NCP and now the rise of MNS could complicate matters further.

Concluding Observations

Three things stand out in the aftermath of the outcome: (a) Underneath the electoral continuity the party system is prone to change. The prevailing bipolar nature of the party competition and also the equations among the existing players are liable to change; though coalition politics has so far stalled and will for some time yet continue to stall such a change. (b) Second, whether the formal structure of competition changes or not, social bases of parties are weak and contingent. The political process in the state is yet smarting from the quiet delinking of Maratha domination from Congress domination. (c) And third, the sections of the population at the lowest bottom of the economic hierarchy are not counted much – they are fragmented, do not have a party of their own, and parties can win elections without bothering for them or for the issue of poverty. This is the result of the growing convergence among competing parties. We do not know if it means that major players in state politics can actually ignore the poor and yet manage to carve out electoral victories of somewhat ephemeral character.

vol xliv no 48

Both the alliances in Maharashtra need to take into account these three factors in charting out their post-election strategies. As the Congress-led state government settles down (amid much haggling and unfolding of public comedy), it will do better if it shrugs off its feat of getting elected for the third consecutive term and addresses itself to the tasks ahead. These would include raising performance levels, attending to agrarian crisis not just by dishing out “packages” but by attacking the issue of dependence on agriculture; taking steps to improve conditions in the cities and towns rather than pampering big cities with resources and taking extra steps to enrich the state’s tradition of diversity. It would have, then, earned the third term in retrospect.


1 The post-poll survey was conducted after the voting and before the counting of votes at 144 locations from 48 assembly constituencies. This was a sub-sample of the sample drawn for NES 2009 (for details see Lokniti Team 2009). The total achieved sample for this survey was 1,966. This survey was carried out by the Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Pune in collaboration with Lokniti Programme of CSDS. The field work was conducted by 96 investigators, mostly students of the department and other field investigators belonging to different institutions from the state. The coordinating team included, apart from the authors, Vivek Ghotale, Suresh Ingale and Somnath Gholve. Abhay Datar coordinated the data checking and data entry. We are thankful to all these colleagues and also to Sagar Shah for administrative assistance. The survey was made possible by a grant made available by the UGC through its Major Research Project “Electoral Democracy and Structures of Domination: A Study of Assembly Elections in Maharashtra-2009; F. No 5-74(1)/2009(HRP). Partial support was also extended by Centre for Advanced Studies at the Department of Politics & Public Administration, University of Pune.


Deshpande, Rajeshwari and Nitin Birmal (2009): “Maharashtra-Congress-NCP Manages Victory”, Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 44, No 39, 26 September, pp 136-40.

Lokniti Team (2009): “A Methodological Note”, Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 44, No 39, 26 September, pp 198-202.

Palshikar, Suhas and Nitin Birmal (2003): “Fragmented Marathas Retain Power” in Roy Ramashray Roy and Paul Wallace, India’s 1999 Elections and 20th Century Politics (New Delhi: Sage), pp 206-32.

  • ed. (2009a): Maharashtrache Rajkaran (Marathi) (Pune: Pratima).
  • (2009b): “Maharashtra: Towards a New Party System” in Sandeep Shastri, K C Suri and Yogendra Yadav (ed.), Electoral Politics in Indian States (New Delhi: OUP), pp 108-29.
  • Pawar, Prakash (2009): “Shahari Rajkaran Zale Bahudhruvi”, Daily Sakal, 27 October, p 7.

    Vora, Rajendra (1996): “Maharashtra: Shift of Power from Rural to Urban Sector”, Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 31, Nos 2 & 3, 13-20 January, pp 171-74.

    Vora, Rajendra and Suhas Palshikar (1996): Maharashtratil Sattantar, (Marathi) (Mumbai: Granthali).

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