With their decades-old alliances breaking just two days before the deadline for filing nominations for the Assembly polls, all four prominent parties were left struggling to find candidates to fill all the 288 seats in the state.
The result was rampant poaching, taking rebels on board and even reaching out to long-forgotten leaders.
On Saturday, the last day of filing nominations, there was unprecedented confusion as candidatures of many were confirmed just a few hours before the 3pm deadline. It was also a day of rebellions and switching of loyalties. Some of the high-profile defectors were former Mumbai Mayor Shubha Raul and former Thane mayor Anant Tare, both from the Shiv Sena, who are now contesting on MNS and BJP tickets respectively against Sena candidates.
Except for the Congress, no party managed to put up candidates on all 288 seats.
The BJP, faced with the uphill task of finding candidates for segments held by the Sena, had been in touch with leaders from other parties, who could win their current constituencies on a BJP ticket, for the past few days. However, though the party didn’t face any major rebellion, it could not avoid last-minute chaos.
It also managed to rope in several defectors. It convinced Congress minister and outgoing MLA Sanjay Deotale on Friday night to contest from Warora in eastern Vidarbha. Closer home, it is fielding former NCP leader Bharati Lavhekar in Versova.
The party also has on-board former Congress minister Dr Sunil Deshmukh, who is being fielded against the Congress’ Rajendra Shekhawat, son of former president Pratibha Patil, in Amravati. Congressman Narayan Rane’s aide, Rajan Teli, filed his papers as a BJP candidate in Sawantwadi.
The party also roped in Anil Bonde (independent MLA from Morshi) and Manikra Kokate (Congress MLA from Sinnar) a day before nominations closed.
The Congress, meanwhile, hurriedly released its final list of candidates around noon on Saturday. Industries minister Narayan Rane’s son Nitesh will be fielded from Kankavli in Sindhdurg and Congress state president Manikarao Thakre’s son Rahul was given a ticket from Yavatmal.
In Bhokar, Nanded, the candidature of former chief minister Ashok Chavan’s wife, Amita, was confirmed a few hours before the deadline. Former CM Vilasrao Deshmukh’s son Dheeraj was reportedly denied a ticket from Latur rural, though his brother and minister Amit Deshmukh is contesting from Latur city.
For the Sena, it was wins and losses in equal measure. Though it fielded former NCP minister Uday Samant in the Ratnagiri Assembly seat, it lost a dynamic woman candidate in ex-mayor Raul by retaining legislator Vinod Ghosalkar in Dahisar. The Sena announced it would contest 286 seats.
The NCP, too, couldn’t identify candidates for all 288 seats and ended up handing out 285 tickets. In several seats of Vidarbha and Mumbai, where it does not enjoy mass support, the party tried hard to poach candidates from other parties. Teli’s last-minute defection in Sawantwadi put the party in an embarrassing situation and the party’s former minister Laxman Dhobale, rebelled after his party denied his candidature from Mohol. So grim was its situation in Vidarbha that its two senior members had to request their estranged leader, Sanjay Khodke, to contest from a constituency in Amravati.
In a silver lining for the party, Prakash Shendge, a sitting BJP MLA from Jat and Rajendra Gavit, the probable Sena candidate from Shahada, filed their nominations on NCP tickets on the last day.