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Wednesday, Nov 13, 2019

Why Western Maharashtra is not the shoo-in BJP may have envisioned

Pawar’s unrelenting campaigning-cum-criticism against the BJP, as is the political view, conveyed a message to his voters, one that spoke of his unending spirit and ability to turn the tide.

assembly-elections Updated: Oct 21, 2019 07:08 IST
Yogesh Joshi
Yogesh Joshi
Hindustan Times, Pune
President of NCP Sharad Pawar and Shivsena chief Uddhav Thackeray during celebration of 100 years completed for Saraswat bank at NSCI Dome in Mumbai in September 2018.
President of NCP Sharad Pawar and Shivsena chief Uddhav Thackeray during celebration of 100 years completed for Saraswat bank at NSCI Dome in Mumbai in September 2018. (Pratik Chorge/HT File photo)
         

Like every election, Sharad Pawar, 79, held his concluding campaign rally for the assembly polls in Baramati, in support of his nephew Ajit Pawar, on Saturday. The only difference, this time, is he was bitter about the opposition he has been facing.

Baramati is likely to be retained by the Pawars, as they have been doing for decades.

Pawar’s unrelenting campaigning-cum-criticism against the BJP, as is the political view, conveyed a message to his voters, one that spoke of his unending spirit and ability to turn the tide.

That may be all that stands between the NCP and the BJP completely wresting power in wwestern Maharashtra.

BJP’s focus on western Maharashtra centred on engineering the maximum number defections from this region.

“If recent floods in Sangli, Kolhapur, Satara and Pune created anger among voters about the BJP and the administration’s failure to tackle the tragedies effectively, better coordination and a right choice of candidates has helped the NCP bring in momentum among its workers,” said Abhay Deshpande, a political observer.

At the centre of NCP’s strategy was Satara, where BJP ensured the biggest defections, starting with Udayanraje Bhosale and Shivendraraje Bhosale. The NCP fielded Shrinivas Patil in Satara Lok Sabha bypolls after Udayanraje jumped ship to contest from the BJP.

Knowing that the Satara fight is tough, BJP had to bring in prime minister Narendra Modi to campaign. However, Pawar’s address on Friday, during heavy rain, conveyed a more powerful message - aseasoned politician combating against rivals.

“It’s not that politicians have not addressed rallies during rains, but Pawar understands the importance of optics. Drenched in rain, when he addressed crowd, the message went out that a Maratha is fighting against Delhi’s power to safeguard Maharashtra,” said Deshpande, adding that there is possibility of Maratha consolidation in favour of the NCP.

From a negligible presence in 2009, the BJP made strong inroads in 2014, winning 25 out of 70 seats in six districts - Pune, Satara, Sangli, Kolhapur, Solapur and Ahmednagar. The big boost to this success was BJP’s performance in urban parts such as Pune city, where it won all eight seats.

While the eyes of most political players on Mumbai – Maharashtra’s seat of power – the focus is also on western Maharashtra, known for rich network of cooperatives, industries and dams, that have made the region prosperous.

It’s for the same reason that BJP having established a complete grip over Vidarbha, Marathawada and Konkan, see western Maharashtra as the key to further consolidate its base. Joined with the BJP in its zest to win the region is Shiv Sena, which won four seats during recently held Lok Sabha polls.

Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has personally focused excessively on this region ensuring defections of NCP-Congress stalwarts to BJP.

For over 15 years, NCP ruled the state with Congress as it could maintain strong grip over western Maharashtra, considered to be crucial on the road to Mantralaya, the administrative headquarter of Maharashtra government.

For the Congress, which once enjoyed considerable clout in this region, it is rapidly turning into a fringe player as the party’s space has either been usurped by the BJP-Shiv Sena or NCP. While Congress does not have any representation from this region in Lok Sabha, it won 11 seats in 2014 polls.

Interestingly, the party’s two most important faces – former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan and state Congress chief Balasaheb Thorat – hail from this region. As for the Sena, the party got spme impetus in 2014 polls when it won 13 seats here.

Cong-NCP’s battle brigade

Sharad Pawar: Most important political figure who has derived his strength from western Maharashtra for decades. Pawar is facing one of the toughest battles this election.

Chandrakantdada Patil: Currently State BJP unit chief, Patil has been a most important figure for the state BJP after chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. Patil hails from Kolhapur and is contesting from Kothrud, Pune

Ajit Pawar: NCP leader, known for administrative skills, is likely to contest from Baramati and is the second-most important figure in the party after Sharad Pawar

Prithviraj Chavan: Not known as a mass leader, Chavan enjoys a clean image. He was CM from 2010 to 2014. Chavan is contesting from Karad.

Balasaheb Thorat: State Congress unit chief Balasaheb Thorat, contesting from Sangamner. He is the party’s chief ministerial face