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Munde's election expenses to haunt BJP

For BJP, a candid confession by senior leader Gopinath Munde on his election expenses during the last Lok Sabha polls may have come at a time when the party is struggling to save its rocking boat. Days have not been favourable for the party, whose leaders, till a few months ago, were looking ebullient over the adverse general opinion against Dr Manmohan Singh-led UPA government and its declining popularity.

In the second week of June, the party went into a huddle to save itself blushes when senior leader Lal Krishna Advani announced his resignation from all the important positions in the organisation. While he was coaxed against quitting, Janata Dal (United), a long time NDA ally, decided to part ways from the alliance as a reaction to Narendra Modi’s appointment as BJP’s poll campaign committee chief for the next general elections.

Similar to the predicament faced by the party’s central leadership, the BJP in Maharashtra is also in trouble over a number of issues. The storm kicked by Munde is set to thrust the party in deeper trouble especially since he is officially leading the BJP for the coming Lok Sabha and state assembly elections.
His statement, however, has come at a most opportune time for both Congress and NCP, and they are not going to spare this opportunity to unnerve the leader and his party. NCP has already demanded action against him and his disqualification from contesting the next election.

What Munde has said cannot be termed as something shocking except the fact that it is not acceptable to the Election Commission, according to which the maximum ceiling for expenses for a candidate in Lok Sabha elections is Rs 25 lakh.

It’s not for the first time that someone spoke openly about the election expenses. MNS leader Raj Thackeray, while addressing a rally at Jalgaon recently, said local MLA Suresh Jain of Shiv Sena told him about Rs 100-crore expenditure made by two candidates during an election to the state council from a Jalgaon district local body constituency. The amount is much more than the Rs 8 crore poll outlay Munde admitted to, but it did not raise a storm.

However, for his bold statement, Munde is going to face a notice by the EC and time will reveal the music he is going to face for it. It is speculated that the figure of Rs 8 crore Munde has quoted as having spent in the 2009 general election may be far below the actual mark. On the contrary, there were certain constituencies in the state assembly polls where it is said candidates spent more than Rs 12 crore to get elected.

In any case the issue is going to leave the state unit of the BJP red-faced right when it was gearing up to forget its past of internal bickering between groups that owe allegiance to Nitin Gadkari and Munde. The party is already in trouble over the emergence of MNS, as Marathi youth and voters are fast walking out of the BJP camp towards MNS. To save itself from the threat of an exodus of Marathi voters, BJP started working towards ingratiating MNS.

The state unit of the BJP found itself in further difficulty when Raj Thackeray warned against efforts to form a grand alliance consisting BJP, Shiv Sena, RPI and MNS. Not just that, he threatened to expose what senior BJP leaders discussed with him in recent meetings. This has dashed party hopes as well as the possibility of bringing Raj and cousin Uddhav Thackeray together.

Today, even the Shiv Sena does not give that much importance to BJP, which was evident when it backed two Congress nominees - Pratibha Patil and Pranab Mukherjee, for the presidential elections. Even Ramdas Athawale-led RPI, a new player in the saffron alliance, is closer to Sena than BJP.

If someone is to be blamed for BJP’s predicament, it is the party itself. It never tried to expand its base and became contended. It lost sympathy and support of the white collar urban middle class that saw its presence fast depleting in Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Nashik and other urban centres except Nagpur and nearby areas. Even after 14 years since the Shiv Sena-BJP combine lost power to the Congress-led Democratic Front in the state, BJP has no presence in many districts of the state or it has diminished over the years.

The issue of election expenses is going to haunt the party in two ways. BJP will have to put up a strong defence for Munde to come out of the muddle.

Secondly, it will have to think about raising funds to face the elections and hunt for partners to get at the right arithmetic to claim power.

— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY¬†

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