BJP seeks to expand base in ally Shiv Sena’s stronghold
The Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena are alliance partners for the October 21 assembly polls in Maharashtra, but the two parties compete with each other like rivals on a battlefield.
Earlier this month, the two allies finalised a seat sharing agreement, after several rounds of negotiation. Accordingly, the Sena will contest on 124 of the 288 assembly seats and the BJP on 154. The two parties had failed to clinch a pre-poll deal in 2014.
However, the their rivalry is on full display along the coastline of Maharashtra, the Konkan region, particularly Kankavli which has emerged as a flashpoint for the two allies. This has also edged out the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress from conversations about the polls, locally.
On October 16, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray travelled to Kankavli in Sindhudurg district to campaign against BJP’s Nitesh Rane, the son of former chief minister Narayan Rane. The Sena has fielded Satish Sawant, a close aide of Narayan Rane, from this seat. Interestingly, Rane, a former Congressman (and before that, a Sena leader) had joined the BJP a day before, by merging his Maharashtra Swabhimaan Paksh with the BJP, in the presence of outgoing CM Devendra Fadnavis. Former chief minister Narayan Rane has been the Sena’s bête noire ever since he left the party on a bitter note in 2005 to join the Congress.
“We will ensure that the Sena candidate wins,” Thackeray said in Kankavli.
The BJP is now banking on the influence of the Rane family in Sindhudurg and neighbouring areas to get a foothold in Konkan belt, which is a Sena stronghold. Narayan Rane is a Rajya Sabha member backed by the BJP, but his entry into the party was put on hold following Sena’s objection.
“The BJP is trying its best to make inroads in Konkan. But this is a Sena stronghold and it will remain so,” said a group of workers in the Ratnagiri office of Sena MLA from Rajapur, Salvi Rajan Prabhakar. “BJP won’t be able to breach this fortress.”
Of the five assembly seats of Ratnagiri, Sena bagged three and NCP two in the previous election. One of the NCP MLAs crossed over to Sena, adding more muscle to its already strong network along the western coastline. Of three seats of Sindhudurg, the BJP had won one and the Sena two. In neighbouring Satara, a Maratha bastion where Sena was a bigger force, the BJP managed to secure three of the six seats in the seat-sharing agreement, despite wining none last time.
“We have grown up hearing about Sena and watching its domination grow. But there is a buzz about the BJP, too, this time,” said Kiran who works at a roadside eatery in Sanghmeshwar. He says several central government benefits such as Rs 6000 incentives to farmers has won hearts for the BJP in the region.
Experts feels that given that outcome of the election is quite known, people have lesser interest in what’s happening in the Congress and NCP camp.
“Given their current strength, both the BJP and the Sena are likely to have a better strike rate,” says Rahul Verma of the Centre for Policy Research. “The only question that everybody is interested in this election is whether the BJP can secure a majority on its own.”
The BJP has fielded candidates in 154 seats and need to win 145 to cross the magic figure. “Sena will be part of the government even if the BJP secure a majority on its own,”