Dharmendra Jore: Shenanigans unlimited
Uddhav Thackeray outsmarts BJP in the first round of Palghar bout; more action expected, even as a stung frenemy vows a winning assault
The Sena chief says if BJP opts out in Palghar, he will support the ally in Gondia-Bhandara, which too will go to Lok Sabha bypoll on the same day (May 28).
Shiv Sena may have discovered a way to bend the BJP its way. The political precision with which the party snapped up the disgruntled son of a late BJP parliamentarian for fielding in the Palghar Lok Sabha bypoll has taken Uddhav's resolve of outsmarting the saffron frenemy to a decisive level. Uddhav wants to fly solo, escape BJP's trap for emerging as the single largest party in the state next year.
Palghar, a testing lab, may decide the fate of the strained relation between the two partners, which the Sena is using to try and carve a niche for itself by playing a detractor within and outside the government.
Uddhav has a spring in his step, as Sena prepares to run Palghar, and the guts to ask the BJP to withdraw from the race. It would be interesting to see who blinks first in a barter proposed by Uddhav. The Sena chief says if BJP opts out in Palghar, he will support the ally in Gondia-Bhandara, which too will go to Lok Sabha bypoll on the same day (May 28).
But will they reach a compromise? The possibility of the two parties backing out seem remote. There are others in the fray who too want the BJP defeated. The BJP has fielded a former Congress junior minister, Rajendra Gavit, who had started his political career with Janata Dal. Gavit came in amid high drama after Sena's nomination of BJP's late MP Chintaman Wanga's son Shrinivas surprised all. Gavit had lost two Assembly elections in a row for the Congress, and before that, he was unceremoniously asked to pull out for a BVS candidate in 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
'Well played, Sena'
The BJP camp does not admit it openly, but insiders say the Sena was tactically much superior this time. Sena explored the emotional turmoil in the Wanga family, which felt ignored by the BJP. The family members accused the BJP high command, including the CM, of not giving them audience. In response, Fadnavis blamed the poaching on Sena. He said it was unexpected of the ally, and that the BJP would win, with or without Sena.
The Palghar bypoll is important for the BJP to reaffirm its influence in the tribal belt. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, four out of the 48 seats were reserved for Scheduled Tribes, of which all went to the BJP, an unprecedented result. BJP had been contesting Dahanu (delimited and named Palghar) for many decades but with limited success.
In the Assembly, 25 of the 288 seats are reserved for STs. Of these, BJP won 11, followed by Congress's five, NCP's four, Sena's three and one each by CPI(M) and Bahujan Vikas Aghadi (BVA).
The results of Lok Sabha bypolls in Maharashtra should measure BJP's influence in the four years of government. Sena hasn't fielded in Gondia-Bhandara because its poor strength will never secure it a prominent place. Knowing his weakness in the region well, Uddhav paid an impromptu visit to Nagpur last week. Again, his was an attempt to create some nuisance for the BJP, where they expect BJP and NCP to fight straight.
Other factors in Palghar
For Sena, Palghar has turned out to be a sharper tool to cut the BJP to size. Uddhav has nothing lose in a skirmish that will be four-way in case some candidates don't pull out, while a victory would be a shot in the arm for Sena.
Former allies Congress and influential local outfit, led by Hitendra Thakur, BVA are also in the fray. BVA's role will be significant in splitting votes because it had won the LS seat in 2009, and lost the next to BJP, despite having its vote share of 30 per cent intact. In 2014, BJP increased its vote share by a whopping 25 per cent. BJP and Sena were together then, while Congress had withdrawn Gavit (now BJP's candidate) for supporting Thakur's candidate. BVA continues to be a big player in two urban Assembly segments of Vasai and Nalasopara, which Thakur and son represent.
If it were to ensure BJP's defeat, will Congress withdraw the candidature of former MP Damu Shingda this time? Congress insiders say supporting BVA may not be a good idea, and instead, the party should have a tacit understanding with the Sena for beating the BJP at the hands of the ally. But will that be acceptable to Congress, which is working to emerge as a strong alternative to BJP?
All eyes will be on developments taking place on Monday, the last day of withdrawal of candidatures.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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