While the demeanour of party leaders suggested otherwise, the Congress and NCP press releases claimed that they received a huge response from ticket aspirants for the interviews conducted recently. The very fact that the parties had to use words such as huge response and crowds before party offices suggested that not everything is well with the parties, which have been reaping the fruits of power in the state since 1999.
In fact, a mere visit to the offices of the Congress, NCP, Shiv Sena and BJP tells you all you need to know about how optimistic leaders and workers are about winning in the upcoming state elections. The state headquarters of BJP and the official bungalows of party leaders Eknath Khadse and Vinod Tawde near Mantralaya always have a crowd these days, with delegations making repeated visits to press for tickets for their chosen leader. The situation at Sena Bhavan in Dadar is much the same with aspirants pleading with office employees and leaders for a meeting with party chief Uddhav Thackeray. Rebels of other parties also rub shoulders with loyalists, claiming to be able to wrest assembly seats from the incumbents.
The scene at Congress and NCP offices, on the other hand, is rather different. Workers of the ruling combine, in hush-hush discussions, ask each other whether it will be easy to retain the seats they have; who, if anyone, could ensure a victory in those seats; and whether anybody has quit the party or is planning to do so. The fear of the anti-incumbency factor is palpable.
While the Sena-BJP combine is enjoying the heady thrill of optimism about an impending victory, it wasn't always like this for the two parties, which ruled the state from 1995 to 1999 and lost power mainly due to internal differences.
These internal differences foiled the combine's attempts to dislodge the Congress-led government in 2003 and they offered power to Cong-NCP on a platter the next year. Sena chief Bal Thackeray promised free power supply to farmers a few months ahead of the elections, prompting then CM Sushilkumar Shinde to do so and ensuring that the Cong-NCP won the election.
In 2009 also, the Sena-BJP failed to cash in on the failures of the state and central governments during the 26/11 terror strikes. They could not convince voters that they could lead the state better than the Congress and NCP, which came to power once again.
But things are different now. The taint of scams and a strong anti-incumbency mood among voters has tilted the balance in favour of the saffron alliance, which is also riding a Modi wave.
Despite this, a series of developments between the Sena and the BJP have ensured that victory will not be a cakewalk for the alliance. Despite the disagreements about seat sharing, the BJP and Sena have not sat and talked about it formally, and the two meetings that happened on July 28 and August 27 revolved around the issue of seats to be offered to the four smaller parties in the Mahayuti. No leader of the alliance is ready to speak on the crucial issue of seat sharing between the two parties even though the BJP has made its desire known to stake a claim on more assembly seats in lieu of the six Lok Sabha seats it has given up since 1989 in favour of the Shiv Sena.
Sensing the mood, the Sena has started preparations to ensure it isn’t caught off-guard if it has to go it alone. A vision document has already been released by Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, who is aspiring to be the next CM. His desire has not, however, gone down well with the BJP, which is not ready to give up its claim, leading the party's state unit chief Devendra Fadnavis to unveil his own vision document.
The Sena has also decided to induct as many prominent leaders as it can to strengthen its position in constituencies where it is weak.
The problems caused by this game of one-upmanship are compounded by the lack of seasoned leaders like the late Bal Thackeray and Gopinath Munde, who were the heroes of the combine’s 1995 win.
Thus, while the winds are in their favour, the Shiv Sena and the BJP may end up squandering their chance to come to power if they let these internal differences foster. They should not forget that the Modi wave did not come about on its own and involved the now PM undertaking extensive nationwide tours from September 2013, right up to the Lok Sabha elections.
The writer is Political Editor of mid-day