Maharashtra by-polls: It’s David against the Goliaths

Hindustan Times | By
Mar 31, 2015 09:38 PM IST

Jagtap says he is ready for the battle — he is contesting the by-election as an independent from Bandra East to the Maharashtra assembly and says the constituency faces grave problems needing a selfless band of people to salvage it.

Tushar Jagtap chortles as I tell him about BSP founder Kanshi Ram’s political philosophy. I had once heard him say, “Your first election, you will be completely unnoticed, not even a blip on the political landscape. The second, you may be noticed but you will most certainly lose your deposit. The third, you may or may not lose your deposit but you will be among the bottom three. The fourth may find you among the top three, the fifth election is the one you will be the main challenger, may win or lose. The sixth you will sweep."

“By that estimate, I should win this by-election" Jagtap laughs. “This is my sixth one."

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But Kanshi Ram had been speaking about political parties — in an era when elections came every five years and not within months as in Delhi, giving AAP a near clean sweep within a couple of years of its existence. Indeed, it took the BSP exactly 25 years after its formation to sweep to power on a full majority in Uttar Pradesh in 2007 and the same is true of the BJP.

Jagtap says he is ready for the battle — he is contesting the by-election as an independent from Bandra East to the Maharashtra assembly and says the constituency faces grave problems needing a selfless band of people to salvage it. His catch line is "Ye kahani hai diye ki aur toofan ki."

That is a dead giveaway — Jagtap knows what he is up against. Congress heavyweight Narayan Rane has muscled his way into the constituency with the clear intention of storming this Shiv Sena bastion. Bandra East is the home turf of the Thackerays. Uddhav Thackeray, the Shiv Sena president, is a voter here and this battle is not so much between the Sena candidate (the widow of deceased MLA Prakash Sawant) or the Congress as it is between Rane and Uddhav.

It is a bitter battle, a fight to the finish as it were because in October the Sena stunned Rane by defeating him on his home turf in the Konkan and now Rane is determined he will make Uddhav chew the grass from his own turf. The Sena has consistently won this constituency but is now banking on the sympathy factor to counter Rane’s appeal. The Congress had finished fourth here in October but things are now different.

This time the BJP and the NCP have no candidates here, and while the BJP should now be with its ally, it has reason to see the Sena candidate defeated — to rein in Uddhav Thackeray, for despite being allies, the Sena is a constant thorn in the BJP’s flesh.

The NCP should theoretically be on the same side as the BJP now but nothing is etched in stone as far as Sharad Pawar is concerned. The NCP was more against former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan the last time and not the Congress per se, and Rane is eminently suited to doing business with, so they have left the field clear for the Congress.

However, Jagtap is not the only David up against two Goliaths. The substantial Muslim vote in this constituency had gone largely to Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM in October and Rane has an uphill task swaying the minorities towards his party. Which way this swings is anybody’s guess. Muslims in Bombay have less quarrels with the Shiv Sena than with the BJP — they have done business with Bal Thackeray before and found the experience pretty pleasant. But that was essentially because Thackeray had called for a secular monument in Ayodhya and, more importantly, stopped the Sena-BJP government in Maharashtra from imposing a beef ban in the state.

That ban today is greatly hurting Muslim business interests and the minorities are known not to waste their vote on the impossible. The Sena today is unable to do anything about the ban and the minorities today have a Hobson’s choice in terms of who to vote for.

So if Jagtap is the lamp withstanding the storm, both Rane and Uddhav, too, are Davids here. Only the victor will prove the Goliath.

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    I wonder if the Sena and the AIMIM know that Bal Thackeray was the first person ever in India to lose his voting rights and that to contest elections for hate speeches he had made during a 1987 byelection to Vile Parle.

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