Maharashtra bypolls: Two bypolls will determine contours of future relationship between BJP and Shiv Sena

Mumbai: Even though the furore over the Karnataka Assembly election is yet to die down, the BJP, the Shiv Sena and the Congress-NCP combine are getting another chance to test their mettle in two Lok Sabha by-polls slated for Monday in Maharashtra – Palghar and Bhandara-Gondiya.

Interestingly, these two by-polls may also determine the contours of the future relationship between the BJP and the Sena, on the hand, and between the Congress and the NCP, on the other. In Palghar, the contest is primarily between the Sena and the BJP. What needs watching is whether there will be a transfer of the NCP vote and to whom. There is a third contender in the fray – the Bahujan Vikas Party – which may well emerge as the dark horse. Also, if the BVP supporter resorts to tactical voting, he could tip the scales in the favour of either the Sena or the BJP.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, however, is refusing the dub the contest as a battle of prestige between the Sena and the BJP. He has tried to downplay the Sena factor by describing it as a contest between the BJP and the BVA. Even Yogi Adityanath was called in for canvassing as the seat has a sizeable number of north Indian residents.

According to a Sena insider, it has been communicated to Uddhav Thackeray that BVA chief Hitendra Thakur, who has three legislators in the Palghar LS segment, will support the Sena in the by-poll. This will be quid pro quo for Sena supporting the BVA in the 2019 assembly poll. BVA has around 6 lakh voters in Palghar constituency. Interestingly, CPM loyalists, too, have decided to support the Sena candidate Srinivas, he being the son of tribal leader, the late Chintaman. The Sena is confident of securing the NCP vote as well. A transfer of the NCP vote to Sena is indeed possible as the Congress is perceived to be fighting a losing battle.

Both Bhandara-Gondiya and Palghar were previously held by the BJP. An analysis of the 2014 results in the two seats throws up an interesting finding — that if the “anti-BJP opposition” unites and ensures that the vote gets transferred to the winnable candidate, then the BJP may lose face, as it did in Gorakhpur and Phulpur in Uttar Pradesh. In Bhandara-Gondiya, the main fight is between Hemant Patle of the BJP and Madhukar Kukde of the NCP. There are also eight other candidates. Both the Congress and the NCP have better coordination on the ground and the BJP will find the seat a tough nut to crack.

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