HOURS before Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis was to address an election rally for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) just a few furlongs from their office, it was just another day at work for the staff inside the office of the Saamana, the Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece. Senior journalists in the office brushed off the BJP’s challenge and an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation, saying that the BJP campaign material mocking the Saamana’s editorials have not fazed anyone. “The Saamana is read by all in political circles. Its articles and editorials make news for other newspapers,” said one senior journalist. “So it’s actually ironic that the BJP has to describe the rally’s location in their advertisements as being near the Dainik Saamana office. That was their way to attract attention to the rally.”
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Outside, with the BJP deciding to challenge the Shiv Sena on its own turf, residents of the Dadar-Prabhadevi region found themselves at the centre of an intense “personal” campaign by the two parties that are front-runners. Sena activists and loyalists are miffed too — this is a traditional bastion of the Shiv Sena, and Sainiks are annoyed at the BJP’s apparent attempt to portray its candidates as major players here.
Mahadev Kadam, a resident of Kamgar Nagar, pooh-poohs the suggestion that the CM’s rally will have an impact on voting within Dadar-Prabhadevi. “We are seeing the BJP candidate now. This area has always voted for the Sena, except last time when the seat went to the MNS,” says Kadam, a voter in Ward 194 (Prabhadevi) where Friday evening’s rally took place. “Actually this time the real fight is between the Sena, MNS and Sawant.” Kadam was referring to Mahesh Sawant, a disgruntled Sena worker who is contesting as an independent, having rebelled against the party after he failed to get a party nomination. The official Sena candidate is Samadhan Sarvankar, son of local Sena legislator Sada Sarvankar. The sitting MNS corporator of the area is Santosh Dhuri. The BJP candidate, Suryakant Dhavale, in not a known name in the ward.
To those who ask if the chief minister’s rally at Saamana’s doorstep is vexatious for Sena leaders, almost all insiders have a counter view: The real problem in the Dadar-Prabhadevi belt, where the Shiv Sena will want to regain the pride it lost in 2012 when all seven wards were won by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena candidates, is an internal challenge, not the BJP’s candidates. “The rebel candidate, Sawant, has a large support base in the ward,” admits one senior Sena leader, conceding that this is one of the wards the party remains nervous about.
All the locals seem to recognise Sawant’s name.
Laxman Hingole, a shopkeeper in the area, says the Sena has done injustice to Sawant by denying him the party ticket. “Sawant is a very active person in the locality and is always with the people in their good and bad times. The youngsters are with him too and he has a large following. There is a lot of resentment among Sainiks for him being denied a ticket, especially as he was overlooked in order to promote dynasty politics,” says Hingole.
Sawant incidentally contested the 2012 election on a Congress ticket, and lost to Dhuri by a very small margin.
Hingole adds that with Sawant in the fray again, there are chances of a repeat result. “The MNS candidate could just win in the fight between the Sena and the Sena.”
In the 2012 civic polls, the biggest blow to the Sena came when it lost all seven seats in Dadar and Prabhadevi, considered its stronghold since the party’s inception. The bastion was snatched by the Raj Thackeray-led MNS. The belt is part of the Marathi-speaking heartland of Mumbai, and is a politically sensitive area, housing the Shiv Sena Bhavan and the residence of Raj Thackeray.
Besides Ward 194, a tough fight is also shaping up between the Sena and MNS in at least one neighbouring ward, and residents predict that the MNS could retain a few wards in the locality. In Ward 191 (Shivaji Park), the Sena has fielded former mayor Vishakha Raut against MNS candidate Swapna Deshpande, wife of sitting corporator Sandeep Deshpande. Swapna is seen as a strong contender, even though she is a first-timer, owing to Sandeep’s popularity. In Ward 192 (Kaburtarkhana, Dadar railway station), the MNS has fielded Snehal Jadhav, wife of a sitting corporator, against the Sena’s Priti Patankar.
Raju Vaidya, a resident of Shivaji Park, says the MNS could still surprise. “As the BJP is not a major player here, the fight is between the Sena and MNS. The MNS is likely to retain a few seats due to the candidates’ personal connect,” says Vaidya, who owns a jewellery store in Prabhadevi. “As for the BJP, people are not really pleased with its increased aggression against the Sena.”
Sainiks in the Prabhadevi Shiv Sena shakha, located close to the Saamana office, call it a gimmick by the BJP to hold a CM rally so close to the Saamana establishment. “There was no need for CM to hold the rally here. It is an attempt to instigate us,” says one Sainik, requesting not to be named. “But in any case, the place holds a bad omen — rallies of Narayan Rane and RR Patil were held at the same spot too and did not have any impact.”
Former Saamana journalist and a digital journalist with a leading regional newspaper Bhimrao Gawali says the BJP’s move to hold Fadnavis’s rally at this location shows the unease in the party leadership about the paper’s editorials that have vociferously criticised the BJP and its central leadership. “It also appears that there’s confusion about whether to target the Sena, its party president or the Saamana,” says Gawali.
The BJP rally venue was about 200 meters away from the Saamana office, in front of the Shiv Sena’s Shiv Vidya Prabodhini Balasaheb Thackeray IAS Academy.
There are no BJP posters or flags outside the Saamana office despite the build-up of a rally right inside the Sena’s den.
Meanwhile, Sena leaders said party president Uddhav Thackeray will also address a rally in Prabhadevi this weekend. “It was planned 10 days back, not now,” said a Sena leader. “But there will be a strong reply.”