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Friday, Sep 20, 2019

NCP’s Sharad Pawar versus BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra

At one level, this election is also a battle between Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar and chief minister Devendra Fadnavis

mumbai Updated: Apr 09, 2019 00:13 IST
         

With the first phase of voting just two days away, the election campaign in Maharashtra is peaking. The state is witnessing a direct fight between the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance and the Congress-NCP led coalition. Even as the mercury is rising, the two sides are battling it out in the scorching heat across the state.

There is an interesting aspect of this election that is coming out through the election strategies, campaign rally speeches and interviews of the top leaders: At one level, this election is also a battle between Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar and chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.

In the past three decades, the politics has been revolving around Pawar. Most of this time, he called the shots in Maharashtra. Whether he was in Congress or floated his separate party (NCP), Pawar has been a dominating figure in state politics. Even though there was a Sena-BJP government during 1995-99, Pawar’s importance remained the same.

The Sena-BJP government did not have a clear majority and was supported by a group of independent MLAs many of whom owed allegiance to him (they joined the NCP when Pawar floated the party).

Pawar quit the Congress to form the NCP. After 1999 assembly elections, he formed the government in Maharashtra in alliance with Congress. The Congress-NCP combine ruled the state for 15 years.

In all these years, as the governments in the state and at the Centre kept changing, Pawar continued to wield enormous clout in state politics.

Fadnavis is probably the first chief minister who is trying to change the picture. His predecessor Prithviraj Chavan tried to damage Pawar’s party politically, but he had limitations since NCP was partner in the ruling government.

Fadnavis has no such compulsion and by taking the Sena on board within a year after forming the government, he has ensured

that his government won’t need any support from the NCP.

Little wonder, the strategy of Fadnavis and his party is to keep Pawar in check in this election. That’s why Fadnavis handpicked a candidate to pose a tough challenge to Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule in Baramati, the NCP chief’s bastion. He has also made a bid to win Madha constituency , which is considered a safe seat of the NCP.

In fact, in western Maharashtra where the NCP chief has stronghold, Fadnavis has been systematically picking up Congress-NCP leaders to increase strength of the party. He weaned away a senior leader from NCP, Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil.

Senior Congress leader Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil who could be following his son Sujay to the BJP has been a bitter rival of Pawar. Fadnavis is also in touch with senior Congress leader from Pune district, Harshvardhan Patil who doesn’t get along well with the Pawars.

In this background, the Lok Sabha election assumes significance. It will also set the tone for the bigger battle in Maharashtra, the state Assembly elections, which will be held six months later.

The question is: Can Fadnavis end Pawar’s dominance on Maharashtra’s politics?

In his past four-and-a-half year tenure, Fadnavis has cracked down on the cooperative sector using the drawbacks in their functioning. Cooperative sector especially the cooperative sugar and banking sectors have been strongly standing behind Pawar all these years. It now looks like this sector is losing its sheen.

The young generation of sugar barons is not hesitating to join the BJP.

Though it had mixed results handling the rural areas, the BJP has built its strongholds in urban areas especially major cities such as Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur and Nashik that have influence on the state economy.

Now, in his battle with Pawar, Fadnavis will have to ensure that the BJP-Sena win at least two third of state’s 48 constituencies in the Lok Sabha elections.

It will help him prepare the ground for the Assembly elections. If Congress-NCP manage to win 20 or more seats — as Pawar said in his interview to HT— it would be an indication that the Opposition parties are regaining lost ground.

It may not be a good sign for Fadnavis, who is looking to retain power in Maharashtra.

First Published: Apr 09, 2019 00:13 IST