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Mission 65 in MMR will be a tough task for Cong-NCP

By Faisal Malik, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON SEP 23, 2019 01:04 AM IST

Defections and the ruling parties’ focus on the 65 seats in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) are likely to make the battle tough for Opposition Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in the region in the Assembly elections.

Currently, both the parties hold 10 seats in the MMR. The relief for the opposition is their allies — Bahujan Vikas Aghadi (BVA), led by Hitendra Thakur, and Peasants and Workers Party of India (PWP) that have a significant hold in two districts — Raigad and Palghar.

MMR is a mixed bag dominated by Marathi-speaking people, with significant Hindi, Gujarati and South Indian population. Till 2014, the Shiv Sena was holding its position in majority of the areas such as Mumbai, Thane, Kalyan and Raigad. But in the last Assembly elections, the BJP overtook its ally Shiv Sena and now has a majority of the Assembly seats — 26. It includes 15 seats in Mumbai alone.

The Shiv Sena, too, has 22 seats in the MMR, which includes 14 seats in Mumbai. It simply means that both the ruling parties are in a dominant position in Mumbai, where they are holding 29 of the total 36 seats. Moreover, the BJP and Sena have succeeded in further weakening the Congress and NCP by inducting their prominent leaders in the past two months. Former NCP minister Ganesh Naik, who has been dominating the politics of Navi Mumbai for the past two decades, joined the BJP. Before that, his son and MLA Sandeep Naik, who represents the Airoli Assembly constituency, had joined the saffron party. The defection was seen as a major setback for the NCP, as the Naiks have been controlling the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC).

Recently, Raviseth Patil, former Congress MLA from Pen, who enjoys a stronghold in the constituency, also joined the BJP. In 2018, former Congress minister Rajendra Gavit joined the Shiv Sena to contest the bypoll for the Palghar Lok Sabha constituency. Last month, Vilas Tare, sitting BVA MLA, who represents the Boisar Assembly constituency, joined the Sena.

Between the opposition allies, the position of the Congress is worse than ally NCP. It doesn’t have much presence in the entire MMR outside Mumbai. It doesn’t even have a single candidate, who will be sure of winning . “We have some strong candidates in Mumbai, but don’t have a prominent candidate to field in the MMR, except Muzaffar Hussain, who will be contesting from Mira-Bhayander ,” said a senior Congress functionary. The party’s position in the MMR is it has only five seats and all of them are from Mumbai. In the last Assembly elections, the party could not win a single seat in the region.

“The Congress has lost its connect with the voters in the region. Also, the migrant voters, especially from north India, which has been its core base voters, has shifted to the BJP bringing the party to an uncertain position,” said another Congress leader.

To deal with the situation, the party has appointed Muzaffar Hussain as one of the five working presidents of the state. Hussain comes from Mira-Bhayander and was also an MLC. In the seat sharing agreement, Mira-Bhayander seat comes under NCP quota but the party has agreed to leave it to Congress, he added.

In contrast, the NCP has five MLAs. The party was planning to give a tough fight to its opponents in the MMR. However, it has already lost two of the five sitting MLAs — Sandeep Naik (Airoli) and Pandurang Barora (Shahpur) from Thane in the past two months to BJP and Sena, respectively. There are speculations that MLA Jyoti Kalani (Ulhasnagar) may join the BJP. “She is not active in party activities,” said a NCP leader.

The NCP is ready to field both its sitting MLAs Jitendra Awhad (Mumbra-Kalwa) and Suresh Lad (Karjat). It is likely to field former MP Anand Paranjpe from Thane against BJP MLA Sanjay Kelkar. The party is also likely to field its four-term sitting corporator Ashok Gawade against Sandeep Naik from Airoli.

“We are all set for a better performance in Mumbai, Thane and Raigad compared to 2014. This time, our tally in the MMR will increase,” said NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik.

The opposition allies — BVA and PWP — will also be contesting five seats in MMR. The Congress and NCP have agreed to give three seats to BVA and two to PWP. BVA will contest Nalasopara, Vasai and Boisar seats and is also demanding Palghar, which comes under the NCP quota as per the seat-sharing agreement between the Congress and NCP. “The NCP is not keen on leaving Palghar for BVA,” said a party insider. PWP will be contesting Uran and Panvel seats. While in Pen and Alibag, PWP is likely to have a friendly fight with the Congress, said a Congress leader.

“You will see a significant rise in the number of BJP seats in the polls. We will be able to win more than half the seats in the region this time,” BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari said.

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