After targeting Sharad Pawar and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) during campaign, the BJP has taken battle right into Pawar family's bastion by planning Narendra Modi's rally in Baramati. Modi will be campaigning in Baramati on October 9 for BJP candidate Balasaheb Gavade who has challenged Pawar's nephew Ajit on his home turf.
It is for the first time that Baramati will witness political rally by such a high profile person. In the past no senior leaders including Bal Thackeray and Atal Bihari Vajpayee dared to challenge Pawars on their home turf.
Political observers see a message in Modi's rally at Baramati. The BJP, through the PM's public meeting in Pawar's bastion, wants to counter the Opposition's charge that party has any tacit understanding with NCP.
In the past, Pawar has had on-and-off relationship with Modi with the former often going soft on later. Just before LS polls, Pawar had said there was no need for debate after court has ruled on Modi's role during 2002 Godhra riots as Gujarat chief minister. Pawar's remarks had raised eyebrows giving rise to speculations of a possible patch up between NCP and BJP.
During the assembly campaign, the NCP on its part has been caustic in its attack against BJP with Pawar accusing Modi of favouring Gujarat by shifting costal police academy from Palghar to Porbandar. Pawar has also questioned Modi's love for Chhatrapati Shivaji after BJP started using the Maratha king for its poll campaign. Responding to Pawar's criticism, Modi said the NCP chief did not learn from Shivaji's governance and failed to provide irrigation to parched areas.
"Our intention is very clear. The BJP wants to challenge Pawar family and the Modi rally is an attempt in that direction," said BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari. Bhandari also countered charges leveled by MNS and Shiv Sena about an understanding between BJP and NCP. "It's the Shiv Sena and MNS which have secret understanding with NCP."
During the recently held Lok Sabha elections, the BJP-backed Rashtriya Samaj Party candidate Mahadeo Jankar gave a real scare to opponent candidate of NCP Supriya Sule. Even in defeat Jankar emerged victorious by posing a serious challenge before Sharad Pawar's daughter, for whom Baramati has been a pocket borough for decades.
The BJP hopes that Modi's rally in Baramati will embolden its cadre in western Maharashtra.
During the Lok Sabha polls, Sule's victory margin was reduced to only 70,000 from around 4 lakh votes in the previous elections. This time the BJP hopes that aggressive campaign and the past instances such as alleged threat issued to Masalvadi villagers will help them put up a strong fight against Ajit Pawar.
Ajit Pawar, who served as deputy chief minister in the Congress-NCP government in the state, made his electoral foray in 1991. In the past two years, Ajit Pawar has faced tide of criticism for the controversies surrounding him- including his "urinating in the dam" remarks that caused uproar, forcing Pawar to apologize.
As Pawar battles fifth assembly election of his political career, he has been facing tough questions over his failure to provide irrigation water to 22 villages surrounding Baramati town. Masalvadi, one of the 22 villages, was in the spotlight during Lok Sabha polls when Pawar was accused of threatening villagers to vote for his cousin Supriya Sule or face consequences of loosing water. The police probe however gave clean chit to Pawar. Besides, Pawar and Gavade, also in the fray are Shiv Sena's Rajendra Kale and congress nominee Akash More.