As we approach the assembly election in Maharashtra, the fight between the NDA and UPA camps seems to be becoming uneven by the day. Recently BJP and Shiv Sena (Sena) have been on a spree to induct strong local leaders from the beleagured NCP and the hapless Congress. Sharad Pawar seems resigned to the fact that he cannot stop most of the leaders from abandoning ship, despite trying to stop them personally. The Congress on the other hand is rudderless and clueless and might not even try to stop such leaders. Probably they are waiting for the new Congress leader to be appointed.
The Sena has inducted the following leaders recently,
- Sachin Ahir is an ex-minister and ex-NCP MLA from Worli, Mumbai (he is also the nephew of don Arun Gawli). Sachin Ahir was a minister of state in Maharashtra from the NCP quota and held the Worli Vidhan sabha assembly seat till 2009. He was defeated by the Sena candidate in 2014 and was lucky to finish second ahead of the BJP. He seems to have joined the Sena, as he found himself staring at irrelevance in the NCP. The Sena plans to field Uddhav’s son Aditya Thackeray from Worli. This would be the first time that a member of the Thackeray family would be fighting an election. By poaching the probable opposition candidate from Worli, Sena has all but ensured the victory of Aditya.
- Pandurang Barora is the sitting NCP MLA from Shahapur assembly segment in Thane district. This is a tribal seat and has always osciallated between the Sena and the NCP. Sena has ensured that by snaring the sitting MLA, this seat is confirmed for them in seat sharing.
The BJP inducted a host of leaders from the NCP and Congress in this round,
- MLA Vaibhav Pichad the sitting MLA from Akole assembly seat in Ahmednagar district and his father ex-minister and close Sharad Pawar associate Madhukar Pichad joined the party. Madhukar Pichad is a big and respected ST leader and hence he was given a pride of place in the ceremony held for inducting these leaders. This is another big loss for the UPA in the Ahmednagar district, after Congress leader and ex-minister Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil joined the BJP from that district. This is a big challenge for Congress LoP Balasaheb Thorat who hails from the same district.
- MLA Sandeep Naik is the MLA from Airoli assembly seat in Navi Mumbai. He is the son of veteran NCP leader and ex-minister Ganesh Naik. Ganesh Naik may soon join the BJP (in a seperate ceremony) with approx 40 of the 52 corporators in the Navi Mumbai municipal corporation. Former mayor of Navi Mumbai Sagar Naik also joined the BJP on this occasion. Losing the Naiks would be a big blow for the NCP that had spread wings in the Thane district in the last 15 years. Ganesh Naik was an ex-Sena leader who was poached by Pawar in 1999. Naik is a big leader of the aagri community that is spread across Thane and Raigad district. The BJP had to face some opposition from their MLA Mandatai Mhatre, a Ganesh Naik loyalist who defected to the BJP and defeated him from the Belapur assembly seat in 2014. For the moment, BJP seems to have mollified her and promised her that she would be renominated from her seat in the upcoming assembly election.
- MLA Shivendra Raje Bhosale is the MLA from Jaoli in Satara who is the direct descendant of Chhatrapati Shivaji has also joined the party. He is the cousin of Satara NCP MP Chhatrapati Udayan Raje Bhosale) and also his rival in politics. Shivendra had tried to block Udayanraje’s LS nomination but could not succeed. Sharad Pawar tried to retain Shivendra by having a 90 minute discussion but failed to do so. This indicates that Sharad Pawar’s influence over his party men has decreased significantly. Shivendra is a big catch for the BJP as they are going all out to acquire Maratha votes (Marathas form 20% population of Maharashtra) especially in Western Maharashtra.
- Chitra Wagh who was the ex-NCP women’s wing head and spokesperson who appeared on TV, left the party and joined BJP due to internal fight between two factions. Many of the NCP women wing members joined BJP with her. She might fight in the assembly election
- Congress MLA Kalidas Kolambkar who is the sitting MLA from Wadala, Mumbai finally joined the BJP. He is a seven term MLA formerly with the Sena and later joined the Congress with Narayan Rane. He won the 2014 assembly election by a slender margin of 800 votes against the BJP. The Sena which had contested seperately got 32,080 votes. Kolambkar worked against the Congress party openly in the 2019 Lok Sabha election and it was a matter of time before he joined the BJP. The Wadala seat is in the Sena quota and the BJP would have to give up some other seat to the Sena in exchange.
- Retired IPS officer Sahebrao Patil joined the BJP and is interesting in fighting from the Amalner assembly seat in Jalgaon district of Maharashtra. Ahmednagar district Central Cooperative Bank Chairman Sitaram Gaikar and Mahatma Phule’s descendant Geeta Hole also joined the BJP.
In the coming days there is a lot of incoming expected in the Sena and BJP, as the saffron allies try to flex their muscles before the seat sharing talks. NCP leader and MLA Dilip Sopal (Barshi assembly seat in Solapur district) and MLA Babanrao Shinde (Madha assembly seat in Solapur district) are among the list of probables who could join either the Sena or the BJP. Leaders like Chhagan Bhujbal and Harshavardhan Patil always make it to the headlines as among the leaders looking to switch, but this seems unlikely. The saffron parties are trying to poach sitting Congress and NCP MLAs, so as to stake claim for a particular assembly seat. For example, sitting Congress MLA from Malad West (Mumbai) Aslam Sheikh is said to be in talks with the Sena (as per ABP Majha news channel) . Sheikh had narrowly won the 2014 assembly election by a narrow margin of 2,303 votes defeating the BJP candidate. Sena had got 17,888 votes and stood at the third position. Ideally, the BJP should fight from this assembly seat in the upcoming assembly election. But if the Sena is able to poach the sitting MLA, they can stake a claim for this seat.
This one upmanship between the BJP and Sena is resulting in decimation of multiple Congress and NCP strongholds. Sources claim that there would be another set of leaders joining BJP soon. This is leading to some heartburn among the leaders and cadre of the saffron parties. BJP state president Chandrakant Dada Patil tried to assauge the feelings of the BJP cadre by saying that among the 30 BJP ministers in the Devendra Fadnavis goverment, 29 are original leaders who came from the BJP, RSS and ABVP cadre. Only notable new joinee who got a cabinet ministry is Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, who was the LoP in the state assembly.
Sharad Pawar has said that losing such leaders is a boon in disguise as this makes space for newer karyakartas to move upwards in the leadership. While he may be right, but that means that he has given up on the 2019 assembly election. Congress has yet not begun to figure out their response to this pincer attack by the BJP-Sena on one hand and the VBA-AIMIM on the other hand.
There is a future forecast (satire) for 2024 on social media saying BJP-Sena have won the majority in the assembly for the third time. BJP’s Ashok Chavan has been nominated as the CM candidate and Sena’s Ajit Pawar will be the Deputy CM
Lots of action is coming in the next two months in Maharashtra politics and the Congress-NCP might hemorrhage a lot more by then.