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2019 Lok Sabha elections: Maharashtra’s six small parties who could play big role in polls

Of the six ‘smaller’ parties in Maharashtra, the MNS has decided not to contest the elections, but will campaign against the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi for “misleading people”.

lok sabha elections Updated: Mar 24, 2019 08:42 IST
Naresh Kamath
Naresh Kamath
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
lok sabha elections 2019,lok sabha elections in maharashtra,NCP
Of the six, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) has decided not to contest the elections, but campaign against the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi for “misleading people”(FILE)

A six in the last over of a match can easily change the result. Six parties, although controlling only a few pockets or specific communities, wield a similar power in Maharashtra’s Lok Sabha battle, with a potential to upset the calculations of the four major parties – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Shiv Sena, Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

Of the six, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) has decided not to contest the elections, but campaign against the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi for “misleading people”. The Peasants and Workers’ Party (PWP) and Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS) will be part of the Congress-NCP-led Opposition coalition, while the Bahujan Vikas Aghadi (BVA) is expected to have a strategic understanding with the Opposition coalition. Ramdas Athawale-led Republican Party of India (A) will support the BJP-Shiv Sena, as it is part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), while another Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar has formed the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) and decided to contest all seats without any alliance with the ruling or Opposition parties.

Raj Thackeray not a Modi fan anymore

The MNS, considered a major force in the 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha polls, has lost much of its clout in the past few years. The party attempted to get into an alliance or seat adjustment with the NCP, but the bid fell through owing to the strong objection of the Congress, which does not want to antagonise its North Indian votes in Mumbai. Once a fan of Modi’s style, party chief Raj Thackeray is set to campaign against him. While he claims he will not support any party, Thackeray seems to have worked out an understanding with the NCP. Thackeray claims he doesn’t care who will reap the benefits of his campaign, but he wants to ensure the BJP government at the Centre is defeated.

Ambedkar remains a riddle for Cong-NCP

The Vanchit Bahujan Aaghadi (VBA) seems to be the most formidable force among smaller parties, evident from the huge turnout in the rallies addressed by its chief Prakash Ambedkar. Asaduddin Owaisi-led All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslameen (AIMIM) is a part of the VBA.

The Congress-NCP wanted the VBA to join its grand alliance, but Ambedkar played hardball. He upped his initial demand of 12 seats to 22. Ambedkar demanded Baramati and Nanded, strongholds of NCP chief Sharad Pawar and state Congress president Ashok Chavan. The Congress-NCP found these demands “impractical”. “It is clear that Ambedkar is working on someone else’s script. There is no point talking to him now,” said a senior Congress leader.

Ambedkar insists that he is looking to chart an independent course and the allegations of joining hands with other parties to defeat the Congress are not new to him.

The VBA has influence in parts of central Maharashtra, Vidarbha and Mumbai-Thane region. It is targeting the backward classes and Muslim votes, which could affect the prospects of the Congress-NCP candidates and benefit the BJP. Ambedkar, who was in hibernation for years, found his calling when he led the agitation against the attacks on Dalits on January 1, 2018. His series of agitations struck a chord with Dalits and increased his stock in the community.

PWP joins opposition ranks

The PWP’s presence is limited to Raigad district and a few pockets in western and central Maharashtra. The party has decided not to contest the Lok Sabha elections and instead support the Congress-NCP coalition.

Their votes will be crucial for the Congress-NCP in at least four constituencies – Raigad, Maval, Madha and Kolhapur.

Raju Shetti: Will he, won’t he join the opposition camp?

For years, Raju Shetti, the strongest farmers’ leader in the state, fought against the sugar barons of western Maharashtra to ensure better purchase prices for cane growers. In 2014, he joined the BJP-led front against the Congress-NCP government and was re-elected from Hatkanangale constituency in Kolhapur district. However, he remained at loggerheads with the BJP governments at the Centre and in the state over farm loan waiver and prices for sugarcane farmers for the past couple of years.

Expectedly, he quit the NDA in 2017. Thanks to the alliance, the BJP made one of his aides, Sadabhau Khot, a minister in the state government. Khot refused to leave the NDA, and there was a split in the SSS.

However, Khot couldn’t take away more than a few SSS workers.

The SSS, although in the Congress camp, is unhappy with the seat distribution and has threatened to contest 15 seats on their own if they don’t give three Lok Sabha seats to the Swabhimani Paksh, the political wing of Shetti’s farmers’ outfit.

Shetti’s entry into the Opposition coalition will be a boost for the Congress-NCP, as he has influence over farmers across western Maharashtra and some other parts of the state.

Thakur takes the middle path in Vasai-Virar

Hitendra Thakur, a controversial legislator from Vasai, has maintained his hold over the Vasai-Virar belt in Mumbai’s neighbourhood and also has influence over Palghar. Thakur’s Bahujan Vikas Aaghadi (BVA) has three MLAs in Maharashtra. In 2009, his nominee, Baliram Jadhav, was elected from the Palghar Lok Sabha constituency. In 2014, Thakur supported the BJP government in the state. However, the byelection to the Palghar Lok Sabha constituency, necessitated after the death of the sitting BJP MP, Chintaman Wanga, changed things.

The BJP fielded former Congress minister Rajendra Gavit, who defeated BVA’s Jadhav.

In the seat-sharing negotiations for 2019 polls, the BJP has given the seat to the Shiv Sena. Thakur has sought the Congress-NCP’s help to contest from Palghar. He doesn’t want to formally join the Opposition coalition, but wants the two parties not to field any candidate in Palghar. Thakur enjoys the support of non-Maharashtrian voters, especially Gujaratis and North Indians, in the Vasai-Virar belt.

According to his aides, the BVA can get the anti-Sena votes, if they are not a part of the Opposition coalition. With the Congress-NCP inclined to support him, the saffron combine may have to brace for a new challenge.

‘Unhappy’ Athawale to support BJP?

Republican Party of India (Athawale) chief Ramdas Athawale is unhappy that he was not given a seat by the BJP in this Lok Sabha election. However, it is unlikely that he will go against the NDA. The Union minister will continue to support the BJP-led front.

The RPI (A) has a strong influence on Dalit voters in the Mumbai-Pune belt as well as several parts of Maharashtra. Significantly, a section of Dalit masses is unhappy with Athawale for not taking a strong stand during the controversy over Bhima-Koregaon violence and the failure of the Maharashtra government to arrest those behind the violence against Dalits. Still, Athawale’s campaigning will definitely prove to be an advantage for NDA’s candidates in several parts of Maharashtra.

According to political analyst Prakash Bal, these parties will have limited role in the elections, as their influence is limited to a seat or two.

“Raj Thackeray may look to split some votes of the Shiv Sena, if the MNS contests the elections, but we are unsure of the damage he can cause. Prakash Ambedkar’s popularity seems to be exaggerated. It is clear that Ambedkar does not want a tie-up with the Congress and is making unreasonable demands,” said Bal.

“Athawale does not have much influence in the current set-up and the BJP will pacify him in the coming days.”

Also Read | Lok Sabha elections 2019: Maharashtra set for two-cornered contest

First Published: Mar 22, 2019 00:51 IST

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