The chances of BJP are so formidably bright that the opposition leaders thought it wise not to burn their hands. The sense of weakness is so pervading that Congress-NCP, after wrangling for seat sharing among them for a year, amassed a whooping 56 parties to join in the electoral battle
Devidas Deshpande from Pune
Onthe day the world was observing April Fools’ Day, the Congress workers in Pune were out on the streets campaigning for the party and soliciting votes. That was a common scene in any election, except for a queer turn—there was no candidate!
Bharti Pawar from NCP and Pravin Chheda from Congress joining BJP in the presence of Devendra Fadnavis in Mumbai
Yes, unbelievable as it may be, the Congress party could not find a candidate as late as 20 days before the polling! After two days of the rigorous campaign, the Congress finally decided to field senior party leader Mohan Joshi as the contender from Pune seat for the upcoming LS polls. The seat was earlier represented by tainted leader Suresh Kalmadi and was considered to be a Congress bastion. However, BJP wrested it in 2014 election. Now, Joshi will be pitted against BJP’s Girish Bapat, a five time MLA from Kasba Peth constituency and minister in the state cabinet.
But this dearth of candidates for Congress was not a one-off affair in Pune alone. In most of the seats in the state, the situation is quite similar. Leaders are not willing to jump into the fray fearing that they might lose badly. Be it Pratik Patil, a former Union Minister in Sangli or be it Sanjay Nirupam in Mumbai—the reluctance is all over there. If Congress-NCP fought 2014 elections with a defeatist mentality, they are bereft of a mood to fight at all this time!
So much so that Ashok Chavan, the Maharashtra state president of Congress who earned infamy in Adarsh scam, was not ready to contest from his home turf Nanded. Chavan was the only one of two Congress candidates who could win in 2014 and his victory was attributed to his suave political acumen. Perhaps the same acumen allowed him to sense the air which is why he refrained from contesting till last minute. It was only after the pressure from high command that he filed his nomination. The only other sitting MP from the party, Rajiv Satav, has also withdrawn from the contest on the pretext of being Gujarat Congress in-charge.
Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray bows to the gathering at the launch of the election campaign of Sena-BJP alliance in Kolhapur on March 24. CM Devendra Fadnavis, RPI leader Ramdas Athawale and RSP leader Mahadeo Jankar are also seen
To make the matters more embarrassing, an audio tape surfaced during the finalisation of the candidates' names in which Chavan was heard saying that he wanted to resign as his views on candidate selection were not being heeded by the leadership. The audio clip quickly went viral and interestingly enough, Chavan admitted to its genuineness. “Nobody is listening to me and I am in a mood to resign,” Chavan is purportedly heard saying in the clip. At a press conference where the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party announced their seat-sharing pact in Maharashtra for Lok Sabha elections, Chavan was asked about the audio clip. “There is discontent over Chandrapur seat,” he replied and added that “these are private conversations between me and my party workers.” These are tell-tale signs of how the flag-bearer of ‘secular’ camp is in tatters in a Maharashtra where it enjoyed unbridled power for over four decades.
And if one thinks that Congress is going through this lean phase because of its lack of strong leadership, here comes another twist. NCP chief Sharad Pawar, heading one of the most important allies of Congress, also decided not to contest the election. However, the 78-year-old veteran politician’s decision came not before a series of flip-flops. Pawar had earlier said that he was reconsidering his decision of not contesting Lok Sabha elections, which he had done in 2009. He had said that “party workers wanted me to contest from Madha constituency”. Madha seat falls in Solapur District and is currently represented by NCP leader Vijaysinh Mohite Patil. Pawar’s decision upset Mohite Patil, who was among a handful of leaders who could survive the Modi tsunami in 2014. This compelled Ranjitsinh Mohite Patil, the son of Vijaysinh, to join BJP. With the local strongman going against him, Pawar sensed a defeat and retracted from the electoral path.
The current scenario in the state brings to the eye the scene from Gulliver’s Travels where the protagonist is surrounded by Lilliput. Modi and Fadnavis are the giant Gulliver and all other parties simply look minions before them In addition to winning a lost friend in Shiv Sena, Fadnavis was also responsible for making young generation of Congress-NCP stalwarts to leave their parties and join BJP Meanwhile, the NCP leaders and members of Pawar family made the Maval Lok Sabha constituency a prestige issue. Parth Pawar, grandson of Pawar senior and former Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar’s son Parth Pawar, wanted to fight from Maval constituency in Pune. However, Pawar senior didn’t want this to happen as he saw in Parth a challenger to his daughter Supriya Sule, who is a sitting MP from Baramati and taking another chance in 2019. There was so much friction in Pawar family over his candidacy that at one point, Pawar seemed to be going to meet the fate of Mulayam Singh Yadav. However, that scenario was averted by fielding Parth from Maval as Pawar said ‘somebody had to step back’.
Total Lok Sabha Seats : 48
Party Position : BJP- 23, Shiv Sena-18
NCP- 4, Congress- 2
Major Issues : Drought, Farmers, Maratha Reservation & Urban Naxals
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis was very apt when he said NCP chief’s decision to pull out from poll fray was because he had ‘sensed the change in the air’. This family feud in NCP was the reason why PM Modi said in his rally at Wardha that there was infighting in Sharad Pawar’s party and it was slipping from his control. “There was a time when he (Pawar) would think he too can be the Prime Minister. He had also declared he would contest the poll. But suddenly, one day, he said he was happy in the Rajya Sabha, and that he would not contest. Sharad Pawar is also aware which way the wind is blowing. This time, the people of the country have forced big guns to run, leaving the (election) ground,” Shri Modi said.
Like Pawar, there are many NCP leaders like Chhagan Bhujbal, Ganesh Naik, Dilip Walse Patil, etc, who do not want to contest for the simple fear of losing. The chances of BJP are so formidably bright that they thought it wise not to burn their hands! The sense of weakness is so pervading that Congress-NCP, after wrangling for seat sharing among them for a year, amassed a whooping 56 parties to join in their electoral battle. Many of these are simple outfits with no electoral might, yet the secular front wants to keep them to console themselves! This brought them ridicule from CM Fadnavis who said in the inaugural campaign rally, “One needs a 56-inch chest and 56 parties to run the country well!”
The X Factor Fadnavis
The truth is that CM Devendra Fadnavis has emerged as the X factor of politics in Maharashtra. In 2014, the ‘secular’ brigade was facing the onslaught of just Narendra Modi. This time around, they are facing double whammy of Modi and Fadnavis whose strong performance has left voters swooning for the duo. Fadnavis has decimated his adversaries on every occasion, from parliamentary to assembly elections to local body elections, with his sharp political manoeuvring and able administrative skill, numerous people-oriented schemes and visible effects of BJP rule. The opposition does not see any chance to trump him. In spite of many ‘marches’ and ‘agitation’, he has not only kept his fort but also expanded BJP’s influence. He has consistently foiled opposition’s plan to play on caste lines and create resentment.
His biggest skill was evident in stitching together an alliance with Shiv Sena that acted more as an adversary than an ally during the last five years. However, Fadnavis was keen for having Shiv Sena on side to avoid a division in the Hindutva votes and those efforts have paid off. “Yeh Fevicol ka majboot jod hai!,” he asserted before the joint convention of BJP-Shiv Sena workers and elected representatives. This allowed a smooth seat sharing in the alliance.
In addition to winning a lost friend in Shiv Sena, Fadnavis was also responsible for making young generation of Congress-NCP stalwarts to leave their parties and join BJP. Congress leader and Satara district president Ranjitsinh Naik Nimbalkar has joined the BJP and is now a candidate in prestigious Madha constituency. Prior to him, Sujay, the son of Leader of Opposition in Maharashtra Assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, had left Congress to join BJP and contesting from Ahmednagar. State NCP vice-president Bharti Pawar and Congress leader Pravin Chheda have also followed suit. Those willing to join BJP are in such large numbers, that Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray jokingly said to Fadnavis, “Please, at least don’t take Pawar in!”
Maharashtra has 48 Lok Sabha seats, the second highest after Uttar Pradesh (80), and all of them will go to the polls in four phases in April. The current scenario in state brings to the eye the scene from Gulliver’s Travels where the protagonist is surrounded by Lilliput. Modi and Fadnavis are the giant Gulliver and all other parties simply look like minions before them.
Addressing a massive rally at Gondia in Vidarbha region Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 3 termed the Congress manifesto as a ‘document of Pakistan’s conspiracies. Campaigning for party nominee for Bhandara-Gondia constituency Sunil Mendhe Shri Modi continued his tirade against the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) saying that its leaders aren’t able to sleep as they are afraid that the one who is inside Delhi’s Tihar jail may blurt out something. “I am not going to reveal much at this point of time. But they are now afraid as to what will happen if the one who is now inside the jail opens his mouth. That day is not far off when all the things will come out in the open,” Shri Modi claimed.
“Yesterday, Congress declared its manifesto which is a document that tinkers with national security. It is a document (yojana patra) of Pakistan’s conspiracies. The manifesto is also a conspiracy to break the morale of our security personnel. It’s also a conspiracy document (sajish patra) of those who raise slogans to break India into pieces (Bharat ke tukde tukde karne k naare lagane wale),” he said.