By Sushil Kutty
After the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government was forced out by the breakaway Eknath Shinde Shiv Sena in June 2022, revenge has been exacted. The BJP has been defeated in the Nagpur legislative elections. But while some are calling it a “major electoral setback for the BJP”, others are surprised that it’s happening, the realization coming after the BJP was halted at the turnstiles on its way to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
More troubling for the saffron party is that the BJP’s grip on Nagpur is slipping. Everyone is aware that Nagpur is where the RSS, the BJP’s nerve centre, has its headquarters. Nagpur is also where oranges grow in abundance. Nagpur is also home to Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, as well as a place to put up the feet for Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.
Therefore, Nagpur was regarded as a cinch for the BJP-backed candidate fighting from the Teachers’ constituency in the state legislative elections. But, lo and behold, the BJP-backed candidate was roundly defeated by the MVA-backed candidate. Coming after “Shinde’s betrayal”, there couldn’t be a better start to the polls-packed 2023, which will set the tone and timber for General Elections 2024.
For the BJP it’s a body-blow that it should have seen coming. More so because the setback has come within days of the BJP’s historic victory in the Gujarat assembly elections. For Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Gujarat triumph was a personal achievement. The Congress, the main Opposition party, was nowhere in the picture.
Not even Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi cutting loose and setting out on his Bharat Jodo Yatra made a difference to the BJP’s thinking on how to win 2024. But along the BJY route, the Gandhi scion was welcomed in Maharashtra by his MVA partners, the Shiv Sena (UT) and the NCP. And though Rahul Gandhi let loose on Hindutva icon Veer Savarkar while traversing through Maharashtra, it didn’t make a difference to the political dynamics.
Today, after the BJY is over and done with, the Nagpur result is proof that the MVA is better placed than the Shinde-BJP alliance. And if the BJP was expecting a tame walkover from the MVA, it might as well stand up and prepare to fight. At least in the Nagpur Division of Vidarbha, the writing is on the Wall.
Gadkari and Fadnavis have no face to show. The MVA’s Sudhakar Adbale won the Nagpur Teachers’ seat, defeating the BJP-backed Nago Ganar. For former MVA Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, it was sweet revenge after last year’s trying Game of Thrones, which went awry for him.
The legislative council elections were contested between the Shinde-BJP alliance-backed candidates and MVA-backed candidates. In October last year, Shiv Sena (UT) candidate Rutuja Latke had won the byelection from the Andheri East assembly constituency. And now after the Nagpur legislative council loss, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis have no hole to hide. And neither do they have Saddam Hussain’s moustache and beard to fit into one!
The long and short of it is, the ladder in BJP’s stocking is showing, and in the case of the breakaway Shinde Group, the slip is showing. In both cases, it is embarrassing. But it has gotten clearer that the MVA has bounced back into relevance, a first of its kind alliance, an experiment that bubbled and fizzled, and is back to bubbling again!
The ramifications are not hard to pinpoint, and expect. The Shinde-BJP alliance is on the back-foot, rocking on shaky legs. Nagpur is home district of not only Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, it is also home to Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, state BJP president Chandrashekhar Bawankule, and the powerful state Cabinet minister Sudhir Mungantiwar. And yet!
This was the second time the BJP was defeated from Nagpur in recent years. In 2022, it lost the Nagpur division’s Graduates’ constituency. This year’s Teachers’ constituency defeat is a bigger embarrassment. The party lost after defending Nagpur for 10-plus years at a stretch. Anti-incumbency did the party in. That, and the Old Pension Scheme, which the Shinde-BJP government refused to adopt and implement.
For the moment, the BJP and the Shinde Group have resolved to introspect. And the BJP has much to study where it went wrong? The MVA has shown the light to the national Opposition that unity in diversity is the best force-multiplier for the Opposition to defeat the Modi-Shah juggernaut come 2024. If the Congress, Shiv Sena (UT) and the Nationalist Congress Party can be an alliance and defeat the BJP in Maharashtra, what is stopping a similar but larger conglomeration to do a “Nagpur” at the national level? It is time for the combined Opposition also to introspect. (IPA Service)