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Opinion: Lok Sabha 2024 – Predicting Maharashtra is a nightmare for pollsters

by moneylab

As both the NDA and INDIA blocs start announcing candidates, all eyes are on Maharashtra, which will go to polls in five phases for its 48 seats. Maharashtra is among the top five states that send the highest number of MPs to the Lok Sabha.

In 2014 and 2019, the Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena combine won 41 out of the state’s 48 seats. But the political landscape of Maharastra has changed now.

The Shiv Sena joined bete noire Indian National Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party to form the Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Maharashtra after talks of rotational chief ministership with the BJP fell through in 2019. The Shiv Sena then witnessed a split, with a chunk led by Eknath Shinde joining hands with the BJP in 2022 and forming a new government. A year later, a faction led by Ajit Pawar of the NCP joined this government, forming a Mahayuti. Both factions have got the official symbol from the Election Commission of India.


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Maharashtra Battle 2024

NDA: BJP + Shiv Sena (Shinde faction) + NCP (Ajit Pawar faction) versus INDIA: INC + Shiv Sena (Uddhav faction) + NCP (Sharad Pawar faction)

The new political realignments have not been tested yet. Two by-polls happened in March 2023, in Chinchwad and Kasba Peth. The Congress candidate emerged triumphant in Kasba Peth, unseating the BJP for the first time in nearly three decades, while the BJP retained Chinchwad. But at the time, Ajit Pawar was still with the MVA.

To determine who has the edge, we need to determine the base vote share of parties. With the number of main parties increasing from four to six — two of them facing a split — it is difficult to determine their core strength. Both Shinde and Ajit Pawar have the support of maximum legislators and MPs combined, but do they have the support of the cadre and core Shiv Sena-NCP voters?

In 2019, the BJP’s vote share was 27.8 per cent, the Shiv Sena’s 23.5 per cent, the Congress’s 16.4 per cent, the NCP’s 15.7 per cent, and Congress allies’ 3.5 per cent. The NDA got 51.3 per cent and INDIA (UPA at the time) 35.6 per cent. The NDA had a clear lead of around 15 per cent.

Base vote share of NDA and INDIA

Right now, one faction each of the Shiv Sena and the NCP is with both the NDA and INDIA blocs. A section of observers believes that both Shinde and Ajit Pawar do not have the backing of traditional voters of these parties. This can only be determined after the Lok Sabha results on June 4.

In any alliance, a seamless vote transfer is crucial for success. While an alliance adds synergies and vote blocks, in many cases, it also pushes antagonistic vote blocks away. For example, a section of Maratha voters of the NCP (before the split) may back Shiv Sena and BJP candidates where they contest from the NDA, but will its Muslim voters back NDA candidates? Similarly, will Muslim voters of the NCP and INC back Shiv Sena (Uddhav) candidates when they contest from the INDIA quota?

Scenario 1: Both factions of NCP and Sena enjoy half-half support each after adjusting for the Modi factor and Muslim support

While 32 per cent of BJP voters backed the party due to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the corresponding number for allies was 25 per cent (one out of every four) as per the National Election Studies 2019 by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. So, a quarter of the Shiv Sena vote share, or 5.9 per cent, in 2019 could be attributed to the Modi factor, indicating that the Shiv Sena’s core vote share was only 17.6 per cent. In this case, both the Shinde and Uddhav factions have an 8.8 per cent vote share each. The 5.9 per cent Modi factor vote will remain with the NDA.

In 2019, 77 per cent of Muslims backed INDIA (then UPA) as per the Axis My India exit poll. This translates into a nine per cent vote share for the INDIA bloc from the community — four per cent received by the NCP and five per cent by the Congress and other parties in the alliance. This four per cent vote share is assumed to remain with the Sharad Pawar faction. Of the remaining 11.7 per cent vote share of the NCP, 5.9 per cent each is with the Ajit Pawar and Sharad Pawar factions.

Effectively under this scenario, the NDA’s adjusted base vote share (2019) is 48.4 per cent and the INDIA bloc’s is 38.5 per cent. The 15 per cent lead from 2019 will be reduced to 10 per cent, assuming a full transfer of votes between alliance partners.

Scenario 2: Both Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray factions enjoy two-thirds support each and Shinde and Ajit Pawar factions one-third

After adjusting for the Modi factor, 11.8 per cent of the vote share will be with Uddhav Thackeray (two-thirds) and 5.8 per cent with the Shinde faction (one-third). On the NCP side, after adjusting for Muslim support, 7.8 per cent vote share will be with Sharad Pawar (two-thirds) and 3.9 per cent with Ajit Pawar (one-third) faction. The entire four per cent Muslim vote (NCP’s share) will remain with the INDIA bloc.

Effectively under this scenario, the NDA and INDIA blocs’ adjusted base vote share (2019) will be tied at 43.4-43.5 per cent, assuming a full transfer of votes between allies. And this is what makes Maharashtra a difficult election to predict.

The 2024 muddle

In the last three decades, the BJP-Shiv Sena cadre has opposed the NCP-Congress cadre tooth and nail. Can they reconcile their differences now? While the Shiv Sena (Uddhav) has anti-Congress/anti-NCP votes in its kitty, the NCP (Ajit Pawar) has anti-BJP/anti-Shiv Sena votes. The latter will ideally remain with the Sharad Pawar faction and the former with Shinde. Will these cancel each other out and thus not have any major impact?

Both Shinde and Ajit Pawar may face the ire of traditional supporters for their coups. Similarly, some traditional supporters may be upset with Uddhav Thackeray for joining hands with the rival Congress and compromising its core Hindutva ideology. Could this politics of opportunism on both sides reduce voter turnout? Or will these factors play a bigger role in the Vidhan Sabha elections later this year instead of the Lok Sabha elections?

Further, all is not well in the INDIA bloc and there is a possibility of friendly fights in at least five seats. Talks with Prakash Ambedkar’s Vanchit Bahujan Aaghadi failed.


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