Can the Opposition exploit the chinks in BJP-Sena armour?

Radheshyam Jadhav Pune | Updated on March 31, 2019

BJP President Shri Amit Shah greets Shiv Sena Leader Uddhav Thackeray during Vijay Sankalp Rally in Ahmedabad   -  THE HINDU

This time the story is different, say political observers.

Two months after he joined the chowkidar chor hai chorus set off by Congress President Rahul Gandhi, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray was in Gandhinagar on Saturday, praising Modi and saying the Opposition had no leader who could match his stature. Uddhav was here to accompany BJP President Amit Shah while he filed his nomination papers.

Despite sharing power at the Centre and in the State, the Sena has often criticised the BJP and its leaders in harshest words and had even gone to the extent of saying the 25-year-old alliance with the saffron party was a “waste”.

But both the parties have decided to continue the alliance for Lok Sabha polls. The State has the second highest number of Lok Sabha seats (48) after Uttar Pradesh.

As the State too was swept by the “Modi wave” in 2014, the BJP-Sena combine won 41 seats. The Congress was reduced to two seats and Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to four.

This time the story is different, say political observers. Even as Sena and BJP leaders are trying to foreground the campaign with themes such as Hindutva, Pakistan, surgical strike, Ram temple and nationalism, various surveys conducted in the State show that unemployment, farm distress, price rise and corruption top the voters’ agenda.

Notwithstanding the loan waiver announced by the State, the agricultural crisis has worsened. The Sena will have a tough time convincing its cadre and supporters to campaign for the party they were criticising over the last five years, they added.

Despite, the inherent contradictions of the BJP-Sena alliance, the Opposition is unable to put a strong and united face. It is struggling to keep its flock together with the BJP breaching the Congress and the NCP dynasties and opening the doors for those who want to switch camps.


The Pawar factor

Even as Sharad Pawar has emerged as the main strategist bringing together 56 big and small parties, Congress leaders are wary of Pawar’s moves and fear that he might not wholeheartedly work for Congress candidates.

Agricultural distress triggered by the drought and the resultant suicide by farmers top the challenges faced by the ruling alliance.

Vidarbha and Marathwada region are reeling under severe drought and the number of suicides by farmers under the BJP-Sena government has worsened: While 6,268 farmers committed suicide during the Congress-NCP regime of 2011-14, the number has risen to 11,995 during the BJP-Sena rule of 2015-18.

In North Maharashtra, the Congress is making efforts to regain its base in tribal areas such as Nandurbar, where it had never lost an election since independence (barring 2014).

In Ahmednagar, Congress leader Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, who is the Leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly, is campaigning for the BJP as his son has joined the saffron camp to contest from here. Sharad Pawar is banking on 10 seats in the sugar belt of western Maharashtra.

All four seats that the party won in 2014 came from this region. Pawar has fielded his grandson Parth Pawar from the Mawal constituency, while his daughter Supriya will be contesting from Baramati. The BJP-Sena alliance has always dominated Konkan and Mumbai and is trying to maintain the upper hand.

The stakes are high for Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis too. Shouldering the burden of campaign all alone, he said: “There are only two ideologies. One, is in the national interest. The second questions the armed forces. There are only two entities which pose questions to the forces: Pakistan and the Congress.”

Published on March 31, 2019

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