The split in the Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance has thrown the battle for north Maharashtra wide open. What is certain is that the Sena-BJP alliance would have been at a greater benefit in this region had it not split. The Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) may gain from the division of votes between the two saffron parties.
The saffron alliance had swept all the six seats in the four districts during the Lok Sabha elections held earlier this year. Based on that performance, the combine was eyeing a better tally this time around compared with the 2009 Assembly elections, when the combine won 11 of the 25 seats. In the backdrop of changed equations, though both the saffron parties are likely to gain in their previous tally, it would not be possible for them to repeat the LS performance.
Senior NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal and his son Pankaj have been fielded from two constituencies in Nashik. Senior Bhujbal was defeated in the LS election. Observers claimed the going will be tough for the Bhujbals because of a lack of support from former followers. Pankaj is facing Suhas Kande of the Shiv Sena and Advay Hire of the BJP.
Kande was close to the Bhujbals just few months ago, while the Hire family has a political legacy in the constituencies. The division of votes between the Sena and BJP candidates may favour Pankaj. Bhujabal said, “The LS election results will not be repeated in the Assembly election because I have changed the course of local politics.”
The MNS has almost lost its ground in Nashik after a disastrous performance in the Nashik municipal corporation for the past two-and-half years. The anti-incumbency in the local body may cost the MNS dearly. The party has three MLAs in the district, but observers claimed two of these two seats could be in danger.
Jalgaon has 11 Assembly seats, with the NCP having the highest (5) sitting MLAs in the district. One of its sitting MLAs and former minister Gulabrao Devkar is fighting the election from jail. He is facing a tough opponent, Shiv Sena’s Gulabrao Patil, who is considered to be a firebrand leader. Another imprisoned MLA, Suresh Jain of the Shiv Sena, however, is popular among voters. He has control over the local civic body and also the support of local NCP leaders.
The BJP is eyeing at least five seats from the district, represented by Eknath Khadse, one of the favourites in the BJP for the chief minister’s post.
The Congress has lost its strong base in Nandurbar in the past few elections. The NCP’s former minister Vijaykumar Gavit recently joined the BJP, raising the chances of the saffron party from the district.
His two brothers are NCP candidates from the district and observers claimed the Gavits are fighting the polls together, despite being in different parties. Both Congress candidates — sitting MLA Padmakar Valvi and Surupsinh Naik — in Nandurbar will face tough competition from NCP candidates and it will be challenge for them to retain the party’s stronghold. In Dhule, sitting MLAs Sharad Patil (Shiv Sena), Anil Gote (BJP) and Jaykumar Raval (BJP) are pitted against powerful candidates in the Congress and NCP.
Nitin Bang, political observer from Dhule, said, “I think the BJP and Sena won’t even be able to retain the existing number MLAs.”