Mission Vidarbha: Uddhav Thackeray looks to increase Sena’s base
In a bid to expand the Shiv Sena’s footprint in Vidarbha, chief minister (CM) Uddhav Thackeray has turned his focus on development of the region in eastern Maharashtra, where, traditionally, his party has been weak. In the past two months, Thackeray has made four visits to districts in Vidarbha to take stock of various government events and even to inaugurate some.
Thackeray, during the inauguration of a zoological park in Nagpur on Tuesday, said that “Vidarbha’s blood runs through [his] veins”. Since December, Thackeray visited Amravati district to oversee the progress on the Mumbai-Nagpur Samruddhi project. On January 4, he virtually inaugurated the legislative secretariat office in Nagpur. On January 8, Thackeray visited Nagpur, Bhandara and Chandrapur districts in the region to see the Gosikhurd irrigation project and a highway crossing project in Ghodsari, Chandrapur district. “My grandmother was from Paratwadi [in Amravati district]. No one should try to teach us love for Vidarbha. We have a blood relation with Vidarbha,” Thackeray said, adding he will do whatever is needed for Nagpur.
In an apparent jibe at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the CM said: “Some people are spreading misinformation about us [Shiv Sena], and this [campaign] will end now. Projects like Surajgad [in Gadchiroli] can change the face of the entire Vidarbha. I want to pave the way for the development of Vidarbha.”
Vidarbha region has 62 Assembly seats and 10 Lok Sabha constituencies. Traditionally, a large chunk of the Assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies from the region went to the BJP, in the alliance between the Sena and BJP, leading to stunted growth of the Sena in Vidarbha. Both the BJP as well as the Congress have strong presence in the region, while the Shiv Sena and the NCP have not managed to make inroads beyond a few pockets. Post the realignment of political alliances in the state, the Sena is looking to fortify its presence in the region that could help increase its numbers in the elections.
“It is not that we do not have our organisation, workers and leaders in Vidarbha. But we never could convert it in electoral terms. Now that Uddhav ji is the chief minister, we can personally steer the development in the region that has been neglected by successive governments,” the senior functionary said, requesting anonymity.
The BJP’s hold on the region is weakening over the period now. In 2014, the BJP won 44 seats in the region, which decreased to 29 in the 2019 elections.
The Shiv Sena, which had won four seats against the BJP in 2014, managed to retain them in the 2019 elections that was contested in an alliance. Prahar Janashakti Party of Bacchu Kadu, which won two seats – Achalpur and Melghat in Amravati district – has increased the strength of the Sena in the region.
A senior leader from Vidarbha said that with the BJP losing grip in the region, it would benefit the Shiv Sena and not just the Congress. The BJP lost its citadel in Nagpur to the Congress in MLC graduates’ election held in December 2020. Subsequently, the Sena performed better than expected in Vidarbha’s Nagpur district in the recently held gram panchayat election. The party claims to have won at least 10 gram panchayats in the rural areas of the Nagpur district.
“When Uddhav ji spoke about developing Vidarbha, he spoke as the chief minister of Maharashtra, not as Shiv Sena president. With him being the CM and the weakening of the BJP, this would be the right time to build the party to gain electorally here. The Shiv Sena can be the alternative that people want,” the leader from Vidarbha said, requesting anonymity.
Political analyst Surendra Jondhale said the Sena can win mass base in the region by giving more industries, jobs and alleviating farmers’ distress in the region. He added that principally, the Sena has always been against carving out Vidarbha. “Since the beginning, the Sena’s electoral footprint was Mumbai, Thane, Nashik, and later Marathwada. At that time, the Congress had a sizeable influence in Vidarbha. The BJP entered late but still managed to gain a foothold. Now, if the Sena wants to gain mass base, it will have to give more economic packages to Vidarbha, create agro-industries, develop tourism and resolve farmers’ issues. Vidarbha, like Marathwada, records farmers’ suicides each year. If Uddhav Thackeray government can touch these points, it will dilute the feeling of discrimination that the people of the region have and they can gain electorally,” Jondhale said.
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