With most of the major political parties, mainly the two fronts in Maharashtra, having almost finalised their lists of candidates, the battle lines for the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections are now drawn. It would be, thus, interesting to watch as to which alliance, the Bharatiya Janata Party and Shiv Sena or the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party, take the cake.
While both sides are staking claim over the state and have vowed to win majority seat share, a cursory look at the poll picture shows that the BJP-Sena alliance has an edge over the Congress-NCP. This is despite the fact that though the Congress-NCP have announced their unity more than six months ago and have been seriously working on the finer details, the BJP-Sena were seen showing their muscles in public and challenging each other in the elections.
However, wisdom seems to have prevailed upon both the warring partners and they decided to bridge their differences, at least till the elections, and come together to avoid split of Hindu-minded right-wing votes. The truce that was stuck between the Sena and the BJP changed the entire complexion of the warfare. The Congress and the NCP were till then solely banking on splitting the Hindu vote-bank.
This would surely have given the decisive advantage to the Congress alliance. Political observers and poll pundits dared to reduce the prediction for the BJP-Sena to nothing more than below 20 in the state’s tally of 48. That would have been a decisive blow to the hope and confidence of the BJP-led NDA to retain power in the nation.
On the other hand, the congress and its UPA allies had started dreaming of grabbing the power in Delhi. Some had even started arguing on the next nominee to the post of Prime Minister and distribution of ministerial berths.
This was because considering the hard fact that the NDA is not likely to repeat its superb performance of winning 74 out of 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh and its tally would surely suffer in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, had it lost in Maharashtra too, retaining of power in the Centre would have been nothing less than day-dreaming for the BJP.
Therefore, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and party President Amit Shah kept insisting on having alliance for Lok Sabha elections. However, Sena Party Chief Uddhav Thackeray stuck to his gun and demanded that if there is an alliance for Lok Sabha, the pattern should continue for State Assembly elections, due in October also.
As the BJP was ready to offer all olive branches and more, the formula was agreed upon and the reunion was officially declared. With this new arrangement, the BJP would contest 25 and Sena 23 seats. For Assembly, both parties would share equal number of seats after adjusting with smaller allies.
While Sena and the BJP have come together though due to sheer self-interest, the Congress-NCP still have inter-party and intra-party differences on nominations. As a result, Dr Sujay Vikhe-Patil, son of the Leader of Opposition and senior Congress leader Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil drifted out and took the saffron flag in his hand to grab the nomination. In Madha, the bastion of the NCP, Ranjeetsinha Mohite-Patil, the son of former NCP Deputy Chief Minister Vijaysinha Mohite-Patil, crossed the camp and joined the BJP to secure the nomination.
In Maval, Sharad Pawar’s grandson Parth also unfurled the flag of rebellion and announced his candidature. Pawar had to eat a humble pie and bless his candidature to avoid the public exhibition of the rift in the family. The Nanded seat in Marathwada was a natural choice for the MPCC Chief Ashok Chavan.
However, his private telephonic conversation was recently made viral on social media, in which Chavan reportedly confessed that his words were not honoured in Delhi and that perhaps he would soon step down. These reported revelations though not authenticated have shown the Congress leadership in a poor light.
This would surely have an adverse impact on Congress’s poll prosepects in Maharashtra. These recent developments only show that all is not well in the Congress-NCP Camp and the serious differences are bound to cost to dear to them in the elections.
This does not any way mean that it’s a happy story in the Sena-BJP Camp. Shiv Sena’s popular face Dr Amol Kolhe, well-known among Marathi-speaking population thanks to his ‘Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj’ role in a a TV Serial crossed the floor and joined Pawar’s NCP at the last minute to grab party nomination at Shirur in Western Maharashtra. He has posed a serious threat to three-term sitting Sena MP Shivajirao Adhalrao as the locally powerful Sambhaji Brigade has also announced its support to the ‘reel-life’ Sambhaji Maharaj.
In Mumbai, the Sena has kept no secret about its steep opposition to repeating the sitting BJP MP Kirit Somayya. If the Sena does not withdraw its opposition, the BJP will have to change its choice. In that case, most probably it would be sitting Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, who is a green-horn as far as contesting popular elections are concerned. These stories are telling. With a few weeks remaining to go for polls, both sides are busy in nursing their own wounds, some deep and some only skin-deep.
Bharatkumar Raut is a political analyst and former Member of Parliament (RS).