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Modi glue binds splintered Maharashtra
* The Republican Party of India, which has never subscribed to Hindutva, is showcasing Narendra Modi as a mascot to consolidate Dalit votes in favour of the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance in Maharashtra.
* The Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, a powerful farmers’ organisation, is citing the “Gujarat model” to highlight the agrarian crisis in Maharashtra.
* Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena opposes the Shiv Sena but supports the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Modi.
* Radical Maratha leader Vinayak Mete has quit the NCP to join the BJP-led alliance.
* With Bal Thackeray not around, the Shiv Sena’s own disgruntled MPs such as Anandrao Adsul in Amravati have found refuge in posters which have Modi on their side.
Whether it is putting together poll campaigns or election strategies, the Modi factor has become integral to every party in Maharashtra, a state that contributes 48 seats to Parliament, the most after Uttar Pradesh.
BJP poll managers are working overtime to meet the demands of party candidates who want Modi to address a rally in their constituency. It is not just curiosity that is attracting phenomenal crowds to his rallies, they say. The “un-preached”, they claim, are getting converted.
Instead of two rallies a day, BJP poll managers have now accommodated requests to have Modi speak at four rallies a day. And the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance is targeting 31-33 seats in the state to match their previous best of 33 in 1996.
Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan does not undermine the impact of Modi. “Yes, Modi is a factor,” he says. “But polarisation will work to our advantage as Dalits and Muslims will consolidate in rural Maharashtra.” The ruling Congress-NCP alliance hopes to counter the “Modi wave” with caste, community and Muslim-Dalit polarisation.
In Maharashtra, the battle is essentially between the Congress-NCP and the BJP-Shiv Sena. Smaller regional forces such as the MNS, PWP, Aam Aadmi Party and Samajwadi Party are, at best, spoilers. Unlike in 1999, 2004 and 2009, the Hindutva, Marathi manoos or anti-migrant rhetoric is conspicuously missing.
In 2009, the Congress with 17 seats and NCP with eight ensured that the secular alliance was ahead. This time, the BJP-Sena alliance is banking largely on the Modi factor, particularly in rural Maharashtra, to increase its tally to 33 from 20, which no longer seems like the daunting task it is given the overwhelming response to Modi’s rallies from the lower strata of society, traditionally a Congress stronghold.
Shyam Laxman Markude, 38, a resident of Pardi village in Nanded and a die-hard Congress supporter, braved the 42 degrees Celsius heat to attend a Modi rally in the city although he has nothing to complain about Congress candidate Ashok Chavan.
“He is good for Maharashtra. But when it comes to the prime ministerial candidate, my support is for Narendra continued…