The 1978 assembly elections marked an era of political instability in Maharashtra politics

By Prashant Hamine

 

Mumbai: The almost two decade old Golden Era of Congress supremacy came to an abrupt end in the 1978 assembly elections. This new era of political instability saw the first ever non-Congress government, the Progressive Democratic Front (PDF) government headed by then Chief Minister Sharad Pawar grabbing power by toppling the Congress government headed by Vasantdada Patil in 1978. It also marked the first instance of Center imposing Presidents Rule in the state in 1980.

 

The 1978 assembly election was held after the Delimitation of the assembly constituencies and also was the first after the lifting of the 1975 Internal Emergency. The total number of assembly seats was pegged at 288, which continues till to-date, though the number of General, SC and ST seats have kept on varying till the subsequent delimitation in 2007. The polls also marked a split in the Congress, with one faction headed by Sharad Pawar who entered the lower house representing the Baramati seat.

 

In the elections that were held on February 25, 1978, 12 political parties took part and a electorate of 3.10 crore cast their ballot, registering a polling percentage of 67.59 percent. The elections had thrown up a fractured mandate with Pawar led Congress winning 69 seats, Congress (Indira) winning 62 seats, Janata Party getting 99 seats, PWPI 13 and 28 Independent’s. Pawar had cobbled up the PDF comprising of the Janata Party, PWPI and others. After coming back to power at the Center, late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed Presidents Rule on February 17, 1980 ousting the Sharad Pawar led PDF government.

 

The 1980 saw the emergence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which broke away from the Janata Party, though till 1972 it was contesting elections under the banner of Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS). The Congress bounced back to power by winning 186 seats, however, it never ever thereafter cross the 200 seat mark. Besides the Congress, the Janata Party too split into three factions. It was also the phase of sober politicians like BJP’s Hashu Advani who represented the Chembur assembly constituency. In all 3.37 crore voters had voted in the election held on May 28, 1980, registering a polling percentage of 53.30 percent.

 The elections had thrown up a fractured mandate with Pawar led Congress winning 69 seats, Congress (Indira) winning 62 seats, Janata Party getting 99 seats, PWPI 13 and 28 Independent’s.

 

After having made its electoral presence in 1972, the Sena did not contest the 1985 assembly elections. However, Chhagan Bhujbal contested the elections held on February 3, 1985 and won from Mazgaon constituency as an Independent. The Congress then had won 161 seats. For the first time a record of 16 women MLAs had won the elections then. In all 3.77 crore voters had voted, registering a polling percentage of 59.17 percent. It was Bhujbal from the opposition ranks dominated the house.

 

If the 1978 elections saw a split in the Congress, in the aftermath of the 1990 assembly elections saw a split in the Shiv Sena, with Bhujbal leaving the Sena in a most dramatic fashion a year later in 1991 and joining the Congress. In the elections held on February 27, 1990, the Congress had for the first time fallen short of absolute majority, winning just 141 seats and hence a split was engineered in the Sena taking full advantage of a sulking Bhujbal. The Sena had won 52 seats, BJP 42 seats and the Janata Dal 24 seats. The elections also witnessed a split in the Republican Party of India (RPI), with four of its factions contesting the elections. In all 4.85 crore voters cast their vote in this election, registering a polling percentage of 62.26 percent.

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