Opposition to decide fate of BJP-Sena

The spectre of drought in many parts of the state and the burning issue of reservation will primarily impact the outcome of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in Maharashtra. Though the situation may appear worrying for the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena alliance as of now, it is likely to benefit from the disarray in the opposition camp, unless this atmosphere is changed.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi have emerged as two pivots for the coming election, as the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) led by veteran Sharad Pawar still seems to be groping for a solid campaign theme. The Congress-NCP has so far failed to present a solid joint front to take on the BJP-Sena’s onslaught effectively. While Maharashtra Congress chief Ashok Chavan has reluctantly entered the fray, the NCP state president Jayant Patil is far from aggressive, even though the first phase of polling is just days away.

In stark contrast to Uttar Pradesh, the opposition in Maharashtra is found ridden with factions which only keep harping on local issues. The BJP’s strong Hindutva line is a major headache for the Congress-NCP combine, which is yet to come up with any joint strategy. As the uncertainty over the BJP’s alliance with the Sena is over, the two parties have taken the lead in serious campaigning, even as the other side is yet to even decide on several candidates.

This was illustrated darkly in the Pune Lok Sabha constituency. While the BJP fielded local heavyweight Girish Bapat, the civil supplies minister, only on Tuesday did the Congress zero in on former MLC Mohan Joshi. Thus, it lost many precious days in finding a candidate for such a prestigious seat.

The Congress had welcomed the Sambhaji Brigade leader Praveen Gaikwad into its fold just a couple of days ago, possibly to field him, but failed to get Delhi’s endorsement for his candidature. Such delays have dampened the spirit of party’s rank and file.

In Nagpur, the second capital, the Congress selected former BJP MP Nana Patole, ignoring half-a-dozen of its long-time leaders to take on the formidable Nitin Gadkari, who had won the 2014 election in a landslide. In Konkan and Marathwada too, the picture is not so different, with some party nominees have invited controversy owing to their past in these two regions.

For the BJP, the star campaigner is chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who has steered the BJP-led government successfully through many a crisis. Fadnavis has silenced all his opponents, inside the party and in the opposition. With his clean image and political skills, he has overshadowed many veteran leaders in the state.

Nonetheless, it will be an uphill task for the BJP-Sena alliance to match its last time’s tally of 42 out of 48. There are many reasons which can or should cause concern for the saffron combine. However, the outcome will depend upon the opposition’s capability to exploit the state government’s shortcomings. Much work will have to be done by opposition leaders to corner the chief minister and the ruling alliance.

Following the 2014 assembly elections, the BJP has systematically spread its influence in many parts of Maharashtra. It has won a majority of local body elections, where earlier, the Congress and the NCP were in a dominant position. It has made successful forays in Western Maharashtra, where it had hardly any presence earlier.

Another morale booster for the party are the defections of Sujay Vikhe, son of opposition leader Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, and of Ranjitsinh Mohite-Patil, son of the influential NCP leader Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil. Both belong to the powerful Maratha caste and the sugar-rich belt. Interestingly, neither the Congress nor the NCP have been able to express their distress to their respective top leaders. Such acts confuse local party workers and help the BJP.

A review of the performance of various major parties in the LS elections held so far shows that the Congress had been the lone party to dominate the results. Its highest tally was 43 in 1984, the election held in the backdrop of Indira Gandhi’s assassination. However, like everywhere else in India, the Congress in Maharashtra could win just two seats in 2014, one of them by Ashok Chavan in Nanded.

Its other winning nominee, Rajeev Satav, has flatly refused to contest this time from Hingoli, which he represents in the Lok Sabha. Even Chavan was not ready to contest this time and tried to push his wife’s candidature. But he was rebuffed by the high command.

In such a situation, the 2019 election should have been a cakewalk for the BJP-Sena alliance. But the picture presently emerging does not indicate so. Each of their candidates will have to wage a struggle to reach the Lok Sabha since the largescale import of nominees from ‘outside’ has unnerved the loyal workforce of the two partners. Moreover, the clouds of suspicion are still hovering.

Taking note of this, leaders from both sides have been insisting that their coming together is not temporary, but will remain intact for the assembly elections later this year. They expect this to assuage the feelings of their followers. A clear picture will emerge only after the last day for withdrawal of nominations is past. Meanwhile, the game of upmanship continues.

(The writer is a former senior Journalist, The Times Of India)

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