They might be small parties, but just as the Maharahtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) has become a major worry for the Shiv Sena, several smaller parties in Maharashtra are becoming a headache for the Big Four.
Parties like the Republican Party of India (RPI), Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatna, Lok Bharati Party and Peasants and Workers’ Party (PWP), representing niche sections like Dalits, farmers and teachers, could skew the outcome of the state election.
And this threat to the votebanks of the Sena, BJP, Congress and NCP is heightened by the fact that 17 of these parties have come together under the Republican Left Democratic Front (RDLF, or the Third Front).
If it’s not the parties themselves that pose a threat to votebanks, it’s the star candidates.
Take Vinod Kambli. The former cricketer and local hero is contesting from Vikhroli on a Lok Bharti ticket. “The youth and women will favour me,” says the confident first-time candidate. “I have also been living here for a long time and know the issues well.”
Another niche party, this one making waves in Kolhapur, is MP Raju Shetti’s Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatna, a local outfit of sugarcane farmers that nonetheless got him a Parliamentary seat earlier this year. The party is contesting four seats in Kolhapur in the state election, and 15 across Maharashtra.
The PWP, riding a wave of popularity boosted by the anti-SEZ movement in the Konkan, is contesting from 17 seats and is expected to eat into the Congress-NCP votebank.
Even the RPI, despite its several factions, is a united threat under the banner of the Third Front. “Though we are smaller parties, we have our identities, ideologies and networking systems on the basis which we could gain seats,” said Kapil Bharti of the Lok Bharti party.
Political expert Uday Nirgudkar expects some of these candidates to make an impact. “By and large, they will have more of a nuisance value,” he said. “Even getting a few thousand votes could act as a spoiler for certain candidates.”