The stakes are very high for all political parties with too little time to shake off their campaign boots as in a few months’ time the model code of conduct will come into effect.
An hour after voting on April 29, which was the fourth and last phase of polling in Maharashtra, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar was back in the drought-affected region of Marathwada talking to farmers who have no water, no food and no fodder for their cattle. Pawar pointed fingers at the Devendra Fadnavis-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government and promised the farmers he would help to get them their dues. It was as though the campaign had not ended.
A few days later he was in Punjab, still in the throes of election, studying how sugar is made from beet. His plan is to introduce this in Maharashtra so that farmers can benefit from an alternative to cane sugar, the irrigation of which is responsible for the massive depletion of the state's water resources.
In the event of a scanty monsoon, which many are predicting to be the case this year, water is likely to be a major poll issue in the upcoming Maharashtra polls. This could be why Fadnavis hotfooted it to the Mahakaleshwar temple at Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh to pray for ample rainfall.
Both Pawar and Fadnavis actually have their eye on the Maharashtra assembly elections due in October and cannot let their guard down even though polls for the 48 Lok Sabha seats are over and results a few days away.
Even Sanjay Nirupam, the combative former Mumbai Congress chief, continued to be aggressive and expressed no contrition for describing Prime Minister Narendra Modi as Aurangzeb, despite a notice from the Election Commission of India (ECI).
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) President Raj Thackeray who took a few days off after election campaigning, particularly against Modi, once again went after the PM lambasting him for his comments against the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The MNS did not contest the general elections and Raj Thackeray’s campaign could benefit the Congress in return for which he is expecting some accommodation by the party during the assembly elections.
Raj Thackeray’s nephew and Shiv Sena leader Aditya Thackeray too was on a soft campaign trail while talking about reviving Mumbai's night life and making the city glitzier and less shabby than it has become over the years. Ironically, the Shiv Sena has been governing the municipal corporation for 25 years and is currently being blamed for all the city's ills.
The stakes are very high for all political parties with too little time to shake off their campaign boots as in a few months’ time the model code of conduct will come into effect again.
While much will depend on how each party does when the results are out on May 23, the Shiv Sena is worried it may lose a substantial number of seats. And while a dismal performance in the Lok Sabha might itself not be devastating, its impact on the assembly polls is what is giving the party sleepless nights.
Raj Thackeray has re-emerged as a challenger and is expected to contest a substantial number of seats in the assembly polls. That is likely to dent the Shiv Sena majorly and if it fails to do well in October, when the elections are likely to happen, it could virtually be the end of the party.
For that very reason, Pawar is keeping his campaign boots on and not easing off the pressure on the ruling party. Of all the political parties in Maharashtra, it is the NCP that cannot afford to remain out of power any longer. It has high stakes among farmers and the co-operative sector, which the BJP government’s decisions over the past five years has adversely affected.
In an attempt to strike a body blow to the NCP, and by extension the Congress, during demonetisation not only were co-operative banks not allowed to exchange old notes for new (which affected the poor farmers badly) but the government also tried to overturn the boards of the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees, which are peopled mostly by NCP stalwarts.
The government delayed the purchases of agricultural produce from farmers every year for the same reason in order to show the Congress-NCP down. That has led to substantially more rural distress in Maharashtra, which was described as the angriest state in India this election season.
Pawar wishes to keep that anger alive, not just among farmers but also various other communities, such as the Marathas and the Dalits in the wake of the reservation agitation. To combat that Fadnavis is back at work circumventing the model code of conduct on the grounds that it no longer applies to Maharashtra, which has already voted. He is shaking up the administration to address the severe drought facing the rural parts to such an extent that setting up cattle camps to provide the animals, already overrunning the depleted farms because of a cow slaughter ban, with fodder and water has become inevitable.
Needlessly to say, none of these leaders would have denied themselves a cool break after the hot summer campaigning had it not been for the upcoming assembly polls. The heat is still on and the stakes are very high.
Sujata Anandan is a senior journalist and author. Views are personal.For more Opinion pieces, click here.Subscribe to Moneycontrol Pro and gain access to curated markets data, exclusive trading recommendations, independent equity analysis, actionable investment ideas, nuanced takes on macro, corporate and policy actions, practical insights from market gurus and much more.