In Maharashtra, It’s War Between BJP And Sharad Pawar

In Maharashtra, It’s War Between BJP And Sharad Pawar

The BJP is quick to realise that in Western Maharashtra the sympathy factor for Sharad Pawar is turning into a challenge they must quell fast

Rohit ChandavarkarUpdated: Tuesday, April 30, 2024, 11:34 PM IST
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Sharad Pawar | PTI

As expected Prime Minister Narendra Modi held multiple rallies in various districts of Western Maharashtra and some parts of Marathwada region this week, and it turned out that the agenda clearly was to target NCP founder Sharad Pawar in most of those rallies. The PM’s rallies attracted massive response with lakhs attending and cheering him at the Racecourse ground in Pune and Malshiras town of Solapur district. PM Modi was seen not targeting Uddhav Thackeray or the Congress much but mainly focused on Sharad Pawar, as the Bharatiya Janata Party senses that Pawar's connect with the sugarcane, soya and onion growers is a challenge for them to handle in these regions.

Pune is not just Maharashtra's top but now one of India's fastest growing urban centres with real estate, auto, education and banking sector booming there, and information technology sector too helping the growth of the city. The PM made it a point to hold one big rally for the four Lok Sabha seats of Pune, Maval, Shirur and Baramati. Apart from Pune city seat, all other constituencies have been traditionally part of the bastion of Maharashtra's seniormost politician and former Union Minister, Sharad Pawar. Since 2014 the BJP made inroads in this part of Maharashtra and expanded beyond Pune city. Now with Maharashtra being the most important swing state of the 2024 battle, this cash-rich belt is crucial for the BJP.

The Prime Minister was seen launching a frontal attack against Sharad Pawar in his Pune rally without directly naming him, saying he has been responsible for creating instability in Maharashtra politics for over four decades. His focus only on winning elections and being in power meant that development took a back seat and big infra projects never happened during his regime. The reason the BJP's top leadership seems so eager to attack mainly Sharad Pawar and not the other constituents of the Opposition alliance in Maharashtra seems to be that many ground surveys show that after the split in Sharad Pawar's NCP and Ajit Pawar joining with the BJP, the traditional voters of Sharad Pawar have polarised behind him and Ajit Pawar's popularity ratings show a downward curve. Leaders of the Ajit Pawar group holding small campaign rallies in towns like Junnar, Baramati, Mulshi and Chakan had to face resistance from the public, with slogan-shouting in Sharad Pawar's support happening at rallies of former assembly speaker Dilip Walse Patil and some other leaders. The BJP is quick to realise that in Western Maharashtra the sympathy factor for Sharad Pawar is turning into a challenge they must quell fast.

In parts of Marathwada region which also go to polls in the coming week the big issue is of farmers not getting proper price for their produce. The farmers have been agitating for a long time. Two things they complain have not worked as promised by the BJP — firstly the doubling of the price of farm produce by 2022 which was promised by the BJP in the election agenda previously has not materialised and secondly the promise that crop insurance with take care of all damages that farmers may face during a natural calamity has also not been delivered in most cases. Apart from this the ban on onions export, the sugarcane price issue and soya prices crashing constantly have hurt farmers a lot. This has created an antiincumbency factor that is constantly rising in the rural parts of Western Maharashtra as well as Marathwada region of Maharashtra. BJP's big worry in these constituencies is that Sharad Pawar's NCP has had a great ground connect with the farmers and various organisations. Pawar has built a strong network among the sugar cooperative societies, rural banks, credit societies and dairies. The BJP feels the anger among farmers is one factor they may find difficult to handle.

In Malshiras town of Solapur, the Prime Minister was vocal about how before 2014 the government did not have any schemes to help farmers. In his attack against Pawar he once again claimed that agricultural issues were ignored by the UPA government when Pawar was the Union Agriculture Minister for many years. The PM was seen trying to convince the farmers that only the BJP, and not Sharad Pawar's party, could provide some relief to the agro sector. The agenda seemed to show that for the BJP the major adversary in this upcoming phase of polling in Maharashtra was going to be Sharad Pawar!

In the upcoming phase of polling in most constituencies, barring a few such as Chhattrapati Sambhajinagar in Marathwada, it is going to be a one-on-one fight while in some it will be a triangular fight. The BJP seems to be majorly banking on three factors: Modi charisma, Hindutva appeal and the development agenda. But the crucial segment of voters in non-urban constituencies is going to be that of farmers. Whether Modi's tireless rallies and campaign speeches will be able to convince the farmers to tilt in favour of the BJP, is the critical question.

Rohit Chandavarkar is a senior journalist who has worked for 31 years with various leading newspaper brands and television channels in Mumbai and Pune

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