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Saffron parties a worried lot in Maharashtra?

Mumbai there are lines of worry on the faces of the saffron parties in Maharashtra and smiles among the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party.

india Updated: Apr 04, 2004 15:17 IST

Mumbai there are lines of worry on the faces of the saffron parties in Maharashtra and smiles among the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party.

Despite all expectation, the Congress-NCP alliance seems to have got its act together without much acrimony or dispute over distribution of seats for the Lok Sabha polls. And what's more, it also seems to have worked out seat adjustments for all secular parties that matter in Maharashtra.

This means that there could be a consolidation of the secular vote bank in Maharashtra and the saffron allies, now with at least 30 seats between them could end up with ten or less when the ballot boxes are opened.

Outwardly, there is tremendous bravado among the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party in Maharashtra. But off the record the leaders of the two parties concede, that India might not be quite shining in Maharashtra and that the anti-incumbency might have a dull edge in the state.

Perhaps the Congress has Sharad Pawar to thank for this. The Congress-led government in Maharashtra has been plagued by scams largely by ministers from the NCP and has not much developmental result on the ground to counter the charges of corruption. So the Congress-NCP have now decided to take on Indian Shining and go to the people with the NDA mark sheet on the ground. This means, lack of funds to combat the drought will be placed at the Union government's door. Ditto with lack of funds for development projects. The centre's sugar imports when stocks are rotting in Maharashtra's sugar factories will be another emotional issue to blackmail the farmer with.

The Sena-BJP has little in terms of emotional issues at the moment to influence the voter with. The Telgi scam which could have been the Congress-NCP's undoing is a non-weapon, given the fact that the stamps scam actually happened during the Sena regime and if Chhagan Bhujbal got going, several Sena-BJP leaders too could be unmasked. Asking Bhujbal to step down was the best move for the Congress-NCP as it dulls the Telgi weapon by removing the focus of the people's ire against the government. Bhujbal, who was racked by allegations of massive interference with the police force.

The fact that the Sena is still thrashing about with issues from Mee Mumbaikar to anti-North Indian campaigns and feels the need for Shivaji Marches (see related story) as it has never done before is indicative of the fact that the party is desperate. Of the four main parties only the Congress and the Sena have a presence in the rural hinterland, while the NCP is restricted to western Maharashtra. So if the Sena cannot get off the ground in Maharashtra, the BJP is in deep trouble.

Its worries are compounded by the fact that there is internal rebellion within both the saffron parties: the conflict between cousins Uddhav and Raj Thackeray within the Sena and the illwill that most party workers bear the Gopinath Munde-Pramod Mahajan duo whom they see as having hijacked their party for personal gains.

Last time the Congress lost 22 of the 48 seats to either the Sena or the BJP because the NCP split its votes. Now it could win all of those and still retain their ten. The NCP might end up with another dozen. So it is a quaint situation in Maharashtra: united they (Congress-NCP-JD-SP-RPI) stand. United, they (Saffron parties), fall.

First Published: Mar 25, 2004 10:50 IST