Since the Gujarat Assembly elections in 2017, Indian political corridors have started using one phrase regularly – the ‘urban-rural divide’. On Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah’s home pitch, Gujarat, the party could save itself from embarrassment only because of urban constituencies. The rural areas, because of a number of reasons, including agricultural distress, tilted towards Congress whereas, cities still hold hopes for BJP. The same ‘urban-rural divide’ is now being tested in India’s most urbanised state, Maharashtra. The fourth phase of voting on April 29, which is last phase for Maharashtra, will have major urban pockets. Out of 17 Lok Sabha seats, eight are totally urban, six are semi-urban.
Mumbai with its six LS seats will vote on April 29. In 2014, the BJP-Shiv Sena combine made a clear sweep in the city. In 2017’s municipal council elections, even after contesting separately, Sena and BJP won almost equal number of seats and the Opposition, mainly Congress and Nationalist Congress Party were nowhere. Now, BJP and Sena are together again, while the Congress-led Opposition alliance is trying to explore local and personal equations of their candidates to repeat its 2009 performance. In 2009, Congress and NCP had won all six seats from Mumbai.
Remember, that in 2009, the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) had huge traction among Marathi voters and had ultimately divided anti-Congress votes. This time, the ‘X Factor’ of this election, the same Raj Thackeray is campaigning against Modi and Shah. He is exposing the ‘lies and propaganda’ of BJP by putting video screens in each rally and doing a fact-check. Whether he would be able to transfer his almost 80,000 votes in each of these six constituencies in Mumbai and Thane’s two constituencies to the Opposition remains to be seen.
In this phase, seats like Nandurbar, Dhule, Dindori, Nasik and Shirdi of North Maharashtra are witnessing a neck and neck battle. In 2014, BJP-Sena had won all these seats. But this time, rural distress, fall in onion prices (as it is the onion belt) and unemployment have become key issues in the minds of voters. The North Maharashtra belt with eight LS seats has been a bastion of BJP since the 1990s. They have won 4 or 5 seats in every LS election since then. But this time, they are facing heat.
In Dindori, Communist Party of India’s (CPI-M) JP Gavit, who had led the historic Kisan Long March, is contesting in a triangular fight. This seat is reserved for Scheduled Tribes. With the successful march, Gavit is hoping to win the seat this time. In Palghar LS constituency, CPI-M has sealed an alliance with Bahujan Vikas Aghadi (BVA). Here BVA candidate is contesting against Sena. BVA is part of an alliance with Congress lead Maha Aghadi. In this deal, CPi-M will get two Assembly seats the elections later this year. This one on one fight has become one of the fierce battles in Maharashtra.
The two seats of Western Maharashtra -- Shirur and Maval -- are also strong battles. In Maval, NCP leader Sharad Pawar’s grandson and Ajit Pawar’s son Parth is contesting for the first time. Maval is the stronghold of Sena=BJP. Two municipalities Pimpri Chinchwad and Panvel were won single-handedly by BJP in 2017. Out of six assembly segments here, five are with Sena-BJP. Yet, NCP has taken the risk to field Parth on this tough seat.
Out of 26 municipal councils in Maharashtra, 12 will vote in this election. This includes India’s richest city, Mumbai. Only two, Bhiwandi and Malegaon out of these 12 are with Congress. So, the phase will be very important for BJP-Sena. But also keep in mind that industrial distress, huge setback to industry due to goods and services tax, demonetisation and overall slowdown will also have a say on the outcome of this phase.