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Mandate for a Strong Opposition

Arrogance of power can be undermined by the reassertion of social contradictions.

The results of the assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana have punctured the myth of the invincibility of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Inflated claims made by its leaders regarding the huge number of seats have fallen flat as its tally has come down from the 2014 assembly results, and forming the government on its own has been reduced to a pipe dream. After the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance returned to power at the centre with increased strength, a perception emerged that the BJP, under its leadership duo, cannot be challenged (let alone defeated) as it controls the popular narrative on the one hand and levers of power on the other. However, these results have underscored the first principle of democratic politics, that seemingly unchecked powers can be reined in by relentlessly going to people, gaining their confidence, and rallying them around. Such effort was most evident in Maharashtra in the oppositional campaign spearheaded by Sharad Pawar, whose emphasis on forging direct mass contact has effectively countered the propaganda blitz of the ruling party. Fortitude shown by Pawar—symbolised by his rally in Satara during heavy rains—in the face of political adversity enthused the activists and supporters. Pawar also brought the campaign on the ground, closer to the lives and livelihoods of the people, as the ruling party kept harping on issues of majoritarian nationalism and systematic targeting of the opposition leaders. Rejecting the drive towards an “opposition-mukt Bharat,” electorates in Maharashtra and Haryana have strengthened the opposition parties, thereby further impelling them to stick to the consistent oppositional politics of holding the ruling party to account. If such consistency was visible in the last five years or if the relentless campaigning of the last two months were to have been a permanent feature, the results could have been even better for them.

In many ways, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) notice to Sharad Pawar became the turning point of the election campaign in Maharahstra. Primarily, it galvanised the Maratha community, as one of the foremost leaders among them was perceived to have been targeted for standing firm as the opposition. It should be noted that contrary to the understanding cultivated among the commentariat that the Maratha community is a monolith or a homogeneous voting bloc, it has always voted in a differentiated manner. Despite epithets such as the “Maratha strongman,” Pawar and his party have received electoral support from only a section among the community. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that due to the reasons rooted in the sociocultural history and political economy of Maharashtra, he invokes a sense of immediate identification among the Marathas. This sense of identification ­became politically and electorally activated in the aftermath of the ED notice and Pawar’s combative response. However, it was not merely an emotive issue as this sense of being targeted was fused with the sense of isolation manifested in the neglect of the rural–agrarian issues by the rulers from a non-agrarian background, and in the botched up implementation of reservations for the Marathas and similar demands from other agrarian communities such as the Dhangars. Being fused with the everyday issues of living and with the constant backdrop of the peculiar social character of the ruling party leadership, which could evoke latent anger against the Peshwa rule, resonance for the opposition campaign did not remain confined to one numerically preponderant community.

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Updated On : 31st Oct, 2019

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