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Maha News | Eknath Shinde’s cup of woes

Apr 15, 2024 06:06 PM IST

Raj Thackeray’s entry into the BJP fold and Ajit Pawar bringing 40 MLAs to the NDA camp imply that the BJP need not rely on the CM to keep its government afloat

Amid the growing restlessness in his party, chief minister Eknath Shinde held a meeting with his ministers and a group of MLAs a week ago over the issue of the pending seat-sharing deal with the BJP and the NCP. The mood in the meeting was dismal. Some of the attendees did not mince their words as they expressed unhappiness over the way the party had to haggle with big brother BJP for seats and that the party had to drop its sitting MPs on the advice of the alliance partner.

Thane, India - November 07, 2022: Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde speaks during the Konkan Festival event, at Savarkar Nagar, Wagle Estate, in Thane, Mumbai, India, on Monday, November 07, 2022. (Praful Gangurde/ HT Photo) (HT PHOTO) PREMIUM
Thane, India - November 07, 2022: Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde speaks during the Konkan Festival event, at Savarkar Nagar, Wagle Estate, in Thane, Mumbai, India, on Monday, November 07, 2022. (Praful Gangurde/ HT Photo) (HT PHOTO)

One of them even pointed out that Shinde himself had to wait to declare the candidature of his son who is a sitting MP from the Kalyan constituency in the Thane district. Shinde convinced them that things would be managed and that he wouldn’t budge as being painted by the opposition parties. He also reportedly advised them to look at the larger picture: A thumping victory for PM Modi and NDA would make things easier for them in Maharashtra.

Later, he tried to pacify three sitting MPs who were denied tickets on the basis of surveys as well as advice of the alliance partner BJP. Ramtek MP Krupal Tumane was dropped and Raju Parve, an import from Congress was given a Shiv Sena ticket. In the Yavatmal-Washim constituency, five-term MP Bhawna Gawli was denied a ticket as surveys showed her chances of winning were bleak. In the Hingoli constituency, sitting MP Hemant Patil was renominated but was later replaced by Baburao Kadan-Kohlikar following strong opposition by local BJP leaders. Shinde fielded Patil’s wife Rajashree as the party candidate in Yavatmal-Washim instead of Gawli.

The whole exercise has left the party legislators worried.

Also Read: How Eknath Shinde has navigated Maharashtra's tricky political waters

In June 2022 when Shinde split the Sena, 13 out of 18 MPs sided with him. They were promised candidature in the Lok Sabha elections. Except for one (Mumbai northwest MP Gajanan Kirtikar) all 12 wanted to contest again. However, Shinde could not renominate them as the BJP's assessment showed that they may not win the elections.

Shinde's negotiations with the BJP still continue. It is still not clear whether he will get 13 seats. His party may retain Nashik where it has sitting MP Hemant Godse, and Thane which is considered as the chief minister’s stronghold. BJP wants Shinde to hand over Nashik to NCP and has suggested Ajit Pawar to field Chhagan Bhujbal there. It has also staked a claim on Thane's seat. Shinde also wants to contest two seats in Mumbai in addition to Mumbai South Central where he has renominated sitting MP Rahul Shewale but the two alliance partners have not been able to decide who will contest Mumbai South and Mumbai Northwest.

The entire episode also shows BJP is not willing to take any chance, hence forcing its allies to toe its line when it comes to selecting seats and picking candidates who can win.

It has however made Shinde’s MLAs jittery. "If we have to haggle so much for the Lok Sabha elections, we can imagine what would happen in assembly elections,” said a senior MLA from Shinde camp.

When Shinde along with his 39 MLAs formed the government, it was just two partners in power — BJP and his faction. Last year, Ajit Pawar led the NCP faction and joined as the third partner. Last week, MNS chief Raj Thackeray announced support of his party to BJP for Lok Sabha elections which probably means he could be part of the BJP-led coalition in assembly elections to be held six months later.

“From two to four partners means the number of seats that each party would be contesting has shrunk. We were promised that we would be renominated in our constituencies. Looking at what happened with three of our MPs, we are now wary that all of us may not get tickets,” said a young MLA from Thane district whose main rival is the BJP in his constituency.

To make it worse, the Maratha quota agitation — which gave Shinde an advantage over his two deputies, Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar, after he worked out a pact with Maratha reservation activist Manoj Jarange-Patil — has lost its steam with the BJP taming Jarange- Patil. The BJP is convinced that it has a better chance of winning if Other Backward Classes (OBC) votes consolidate in its favour as a reaction to aggressive Maratha agitation. The government has already formed a special investigation team and probing who encouraged violence during the Maratha agitation.

And then the sword of the Supreme Court judgement on the disqualification issue is hanging over his head. The Thackeray faction approached the apex court challenging Assembly Speaker Rahul Narwekar’s verdict in favour of Shinde; the verdict on the case is expected in a month or two.

Twenty-two months ago, when Shinde split the Shiv Sena, he helped the BJP damage the opposition coalition and prevented their return to power in Maharashtra. With Uddhav Thackeray a vocal critic of PM Modi, Shinde was the counter the BJP needed.

Things, however, seem to be changing for him.

Raj Thackeray’s entry into the BJP fold, even if as a friendly voice, also means the party doesn’t believe that Shinde can transfer the traditional Shiv Sena voters to its candidates. With Ajit Pawar bringing 40 MLAs to the NDA camp, BJP need not rely on Shinde to keep its government in Maharashtra afloat. Complaints against Shinde’s alleged one-upmanship during the Maratha agitation have set alarm bells ringing in Delhi.

So, is what is happening ahead of the Lok Sabha election just a phase for Shinde? Or is it the beginning of the trouble? June 4 may have an answer when the votes are counted.

Tell us what your First Vote will stand for in a short video & get a chance to be featured on HT’s social media handles. Click here to know more!

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Shailesh Gaikwad is political editor and heads the political bureau in Hindustan Times' Mumbai edition.In his career of over 20 years, he has covered Maharashtra politics, state government and urban governance issues.

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