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Saturday, Nov 23, 2019

Round two: The war has begun

With an unusual announcement of BJP-Shiv Sena alliance on Monday evening, the battle lines are clear. It will be a direct contest between two alliances.

mumbai Updated: Oct 01, 2019 00:10 IST
Shailesh Gaikwad
Shailesh Gaikwad
Hindustan Times
Though the BJP looks strong after its thumping victory in Lok Sabha polls, CM Fadnavis knows local issues and local calculations matter in Assembly elections and has chosen to avoid a three-way contest, which could give an advantage to Opposition Congress-NCP in certain areas.
Though the BJP looks strong after its thumping victory in Lok Sabha polls, CM Fadnavis knows local issues and local calculations matter in Assembly elections and has chosen to avoid a three-way contest, which could give an advantage to Opposition Congress-NCP in certain areas.
         

The war for Maharashtra has begun. With an unusual announcement of BJP-Shiv Sena alliance on Monday evening, the battle lines are clear. It will be a direct contest between two alliances.

The alliance announcement was unusual because everybody was expecting top leaders of both the parties to formally announce the same. However, since the seat-sharing formula is not being disclosed, the announcement tuned out to be a tame press release signed by state BJP chief Chandrakant Patil and senior Sena leader Subhash Desai, which just said that the details of seat-sharing would be revealed soon. At this juncture, it is not clear whether the formula was not disclosed because the two parties are still working out the details or to prevent rebellion.

However, it clearly means that the two parties have largely decided how they are going to divide 288 seats. It means that chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has decided to play safe by forging the alliance. Though the BJP looks strong after its thumping victory in Lok Sabha polls, Fadnavis knows local issues and local calculations matter in Assembly elections and has chosen to avoid a three-way contest, which could give an advantage to Opposition Congress-NCP in certain areas. As the details are not out yet, we don’t know if Uddhav Thackeray has stayed firm on his demand for equal share in seats or has settled for less than half as indicated by the news reports.

The chief ministership or in other words, the Big Brother tag, is still something that both the sides are claiming to be theirs. Thackeray and several Sena leaders have been saying that the party will install its CM in Mantralaya. The BJP leaders are insisting that there is no compromise on that front which is indicated by both PM Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah who said in their public meetings that Fadnavis would return as the CM.

As of now, it looks like BJP could again emerge as the Big Brother, but that would be settled only when the results are out. There has been buzz that Aaditya Thackeray could be deputy CM in the new government in case the ruling alliance is returning to power. While Sena leader Sanjay Raut on Monday called Aaditya a future CM, BJP state chief Chandrakant Patil said they have not made any promise of giving (even) deputy chief ministership to the Sena. These kinds of remarks will keep coming now as both sides are flexing muscles. Needless to say, politicians believe that people have short memory so it doesn’t matter if they change their stand later.

As long as Opposition camp is concerned, there is much less enthusiasm visible. The ED’s move to file Enforcement Case Information Report against NCP chief Sharad Pawar along with his nephew Ajit Pawar and about 70 others in connection with an alleged ₹25,000-crore scam in MSC Bank has kicked up a political storm. Pawar’s response to the development—meant to create an impression that he was taking the BJP head-on — has galvanized the NCP cadre. Party strategists believe this will lead to a sympathy vote for the NCP in areas such as western Maharashtra where the party has support base.

Significantly, this election is also a battle between Fadnavis and Pawar, the new order versus the old. In past five years, Fadnavis has tried to reduce Pawar’s influence on state politics. This year’s LS polls was the first round of the battle between the two. Fadnavis-led BJP won it. Ahead of the Assembly polls, NCP is battered and bruised due to large-scale poaching of its senior leaders and legislators by the ruling parties. Pawar has now got his act together and is fighting back. After this weekend’s episode, he and his nephew, Ajit, seem to be on the same page and adopting an aggressive stance. The Assembly polls will be round two between the two sides. It will be either Fadnavis-led BJP going for the kill or Pawars, with Congress by their side, fighting back.