Scars of communal violence of five years ago here are still visible in its epicentre of Sangli-Miraj even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a rally in Sangli’s Tasgaon Assembly constituency Sunday.
In 2009 Assembly polls, which took place after the violence ripped across the town, witnessed a clear division in votes on community lines. Benefiting the most from this polarisation, the BJP managed to bag three out of the eight Assembly seats in the belt, which has traditionally remained loyal to the Congress. The three seats that went into the BJP kitty were Sangli, Miraj and Jat.
As it attempts to repeat or better its performance in 2014, the BJP faces a division of loyal Hindu votes. Following its divorce with BJP, the Shiv Sena, which does not represent a single seat in the region, has put up candidates in seven Assembly segments.
BJP legislator Suresh Khade, who represents the Miraj Assembly seat, conceded the Sena challenge while claiming that his would ride the Modi wave and development carried out by party legislators in the belt to improve its tally. “It would be incorrect to say that we had won last time only because of the riots. Our vote margins might come down in the new circumstances,” Khade said.
Local BJP leaders admitted being wary of the Shiv Sena factor, while pointing out that a split in the Congress-NCP alliance and a presence of rebels would bolster their chances.
Besides gains in Sangli-Miraj, the BJP had also recorded gains in two Kolhapur seats in 2009.
In their bid to gain maximum votes, both BJP and Sena have been trying to woo supporters of local Hindutva icon, Sambhaji Bhede (Guruji). Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray referred to him generously during his campaign in Sangli earlier this week and did the same at another rally in Borivali a day later. Modi has already said that the former RSS activist was his role model. Sources said Modi would refer to him again during his Sunday’s speech.