ollowing disputes between NCP president Sharad Pawar and the INC president Sonia Gandhi, the state’s political status quo was upset when Pawar defected from the INC which was perceived as the vehicle of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, to form the Nationalist Congress Party. This offshoot of the Congress party is nevertheless dominated by the Maratha community. The Shiv Sena was formed in the 1960s by Balasaheb Thackeray, a cartoonist and journalist to advocate and agitate for the interests of Marathi people in Mumbai. Over the following decades, Shiv Sena slowly grew and took over the then Bombay Municipal Corporation in the 1980s. The original base of the party was among the lower middle and working class Marathi people in Mumbai and the surrounding urban areas, the leadership of the party came from educated people. However, since 1990s there has been dada-ization of the party.
By the number of Marathas elected on a Shiv Sena ticket in the last few elections, the party is emerging as another Maratha party. The BJP is closely related to the RSS and is part of the Sangh Parivar. The party originally derived its support from the urban upper castes such as Brahmins and non-Maharashtrians. In recent years, the party has been able to penetrate the Maratha community by fielding Maratha candidates in elections. The Shiv Sena–BJP coalition came to power at the state level in 1995 which was a blow to the INC. In 2006, a split within Shiv Sena emerged when Bal Thackeray anointed his son Uddhav Thackeray as his successor over his nephew Raj Thackeray. Raj then left the party and formed a new outfit called the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). Raj Thackeray, like his uncle, has also tried to win support from the Marathi community by embracing anti-immigrant sentiment in Maharashtra for instance against Biharis. After the Maratha–Kunbi, the Mahars are numerically the second largest community. Most of the Mahars are followers of Buddhism and fall under the Scheduled Caste (SC) group. Since the time of B. R. Ambedkar, the Mahar community has supported various factions of the Republican Party of India (RPI).
There are 25 seats reserved for the SC. Parties such as NCP, BJP and the Congress field candidates from other Hindu SC groups like Mang and Chambhar for the reserved seats to thwart the candidates of the RPI. Maharashtra is the third biggest state in India in terms of area with a total area of 307,713 sq km which is as big as the country Oman is! Maharashtra is the second most populous state in India with a total population of 11.23 crore which is equivalent to the population of Mexico. Maharashtra ranks first in terms of the size of the economy with nominal GDP equal to $400 billion which is equivalent to the size of the economy of Iran. Maharashtra is located in the western region of India which shares its border with the state of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, Karnataka and Goa and the Union Territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli. The financial capital of India, Mumbai and the geographic center of India, Nagpur, are both located in the state. Mumbai that is the most populous city in Maharashtra which is also the most populous city in India is also the 6th most populous city in the world. Maharashtra is drained by the river Godavari which is referred to as the Dakshin Ganga, the rivers such as Krishna, Koyana, Tapi, Penganga, Wainganga are the other prominent rivers. Maharashtra is one of the best tourist destinations in the country which has – Five World Heritage Sites, a long stretch of Western Ghats – one of the four biodiversity hotspots, six Tiger reserves, six national parks and so on.
The empire under Shivaji Maharaj in 1674 was the champions of Hinduism in the face of Islamic aggression by the Mughal Empire and ruled much of the subcontinent for over a century after defeating them. Sharad Pawar, who had been a towering figure in Maharashtrian and national politics, belongs to this group. The state’s political status quo was upset when Pawar defected from the INC, which was perceived as the vehicle of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to form the Nationalist Congress Party or NCP in 1999. This followed disputes between Pawar and the INC president Sonia Gandhi. This offshoot of the Congress party was nevertheless dominated again by the Maratha community. And NCP has formed alliances with Congress in the UPA government. A number of senior leaders of the party such as Sharad Pawar, Ganesh Naik and DY Patil have promoted the political careers of their respective family members but since NCP’s leadership mainly came from educated Marathas, it is relatively free from caste and dynasty politics in comparison to other political parties.
The Shiv Sena gradually moved from advocating a pro-Marathi ideology to one supporting a broader Hindu Nationalist agenda. The original base of the party was lower middle-and working-class Marathi people in Mumbai and surrounding urban areas. In the last 30 years, however, Shiv Sena and the BJP began gaining a foothold in the state of Maharashtra especially in the rural areas hit by drought and unemployment. The Shiv Sena and the BJP came into power at the state level in 1995 which was a big blow to the INC. The BJP is closely related to the RSS and is part of the Sangh Parivar, originally deriving its support from the urban “upper caste” Gujarati’s and Marwari’s. Shiv Sena’s leaders mostly came from the so-called “high castes” i.e. Brahmins, CKPs and Pathare Prabhus. But in the recent years, the party has been able to penetrate the Maratha group by fielding Maratha candidates in elections.
To summarize, there isn’t much of an ideological difference between different political parties in Maharashtra. Hindutva is a strong factor but meat and fish are considered a part of Maharashtrian cuisine and Marathi politicians have frequently spewed vitriol against the Jain community for attempts to impose vegetarianism in their premises. The main factor of politics of Maharashtra is the Maratha community which accounts for 31 per cent of the state’s population. They dominate the cooperative institutions and with the resultant economic power control politics from the village level up to the Assembly and Lok Sabha seats. Of the 18 chief Ministers so far, as many as 10 (55 per cent) have been Marathas. As of December 2016, of the 366 MLAs combined (Legislative Assembly has 288 MLAs and Legislative Council has 78 MLAs) 169 are Marathas (46 per cent).
(With inputs from various agencies)
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