Maharashtra, the home to 11 crore Indians, sends 48 members of parliament to the Lok Sabha, a number that is bettered only by Uttar Pradesh. Traditionally voters from Maharashtra have backed the Congress, with about 24 of the 48 seats going to the Congress and NCP in the 2009 General Elections. Also, at a state level, Maharashtra has been ruled by a Congress government since independence, barring one occasion in 1995. But will the going be as easy in the coming General Elections or will the people of Maharashtra move away from the Congress like they did 20 years ago?
The first and foremost point we noted was the low Relevance (reason to adopt), Congress and NCP suffered from. Have the years of scams (Irrigation, Adarsh at the state level) and leadership changes (Vilasrao Deshmukh, Ashok Chavan and Prithviraj Chavan) eroded the voter's confidence in the Congress-NCP and led to this situation? While NCP still retains Esteem (Respect, Regard), the Brand Health indicates that the Congress might be relegated to a junior partner in the possibly diminished partnership.
The going looks rosy on the other hand for the BJP and Shiv Sena that are seen as most Relevant and enjoy healthy Esteem. Differentiation remains a challenge for these parties, especially the BJP, but it can be understood perhaps from the lack of a face to represent the party in the state after the passing of Pramod Mahajan. The newcomer, MNS, expected to play the role of the proverbial fifth wheel, is seen with great Esteem but is yet to carve a niche for itself (Lowest Differentiation), possibly due to being limited geographically to Western Maharashtra.
From our study and analysis, we glean that while the Congress was seen as Straightforward, Socially responsible and Intelligent, it was also perceived as Arrogant. Its ally, NCP is seen as a Leader, Reliable, Progressive and Traditional. But are they really partners in the true sense of the word, since our analysis reveals that the voter finds little or no shared perceptions between the allies? Quite possibly, it is the Congress that is burdened with carrying the mistakes of the administration, while its junior partner, NCP has been relatively untouched.
The BJP is another party perceived as a Leader, and also Trusted, Prestigious, Upper Class and Visionary. The focus on Development and Governance that the party has projected is possibly making a difference. Finally, of the parties led by the warring cousins, Shiv Sena is seen as Distinctive, Carefree, Daring, Dynamic and MNS as Arrogant, Rugged, Simple and Helpful. It would seem that the Thackeray duo have gained equally from their legacy. However, from our analysis it is clear that voters believe that the longstanding partnership with Shiv Sena is a better fit for BJP than the newcomer MNS or the well-established NCP. BJP would be well advised to focus on its current ally and build from its strengths.
The writing on the wall is very clear, and the Congress would be fortunate to even replicate its previous performance in the state. BJP gains are more likely to come from the anti-incumbency factor and the crumbling of the Congress image. Losses in Maharashtra will hurt the Congress, which has been its stronghold and this might just be the state that spells doom for the incumbent at the state and the centre.