AS THE Shiv Sena prepares to take on the ruling BJP in what will be the biggest clash between the two estranged allies until now, the Sena is relying on a sympathy wave in favour of its candidate in the upcoming Palghar Lok Sabha bypoll. BJP hopes to cash in on the Sena’s weakest front — the large North Indian population in the constituency.
As campaigning comes to an end in Palghar, a constituency comprising the peri-urban areas of Virar, Nallasopara, Boisar as well as the deep tribal pockets of Dahanu, Vikramgad and Talasari, the BJP will also be pinning hopes on retaining seat through splitting of Maharashtrian votes between the Sena and the Bahujan Vikas Aghadi (BVA).
Palghar bypoll is necessitated by the death of BJP MP Chintaman Wanaga in January this year. Sena, in an unexpected move, fielded Wanaga’s son Shrinivas, who has claimed that the BJP ignored the family after the Parliamentarian’s death.
“What we were expecting from the BJP was support for our family after my father’s death. He gave the BJP 35 years of his life, ignoring his own health. So, in my campaign too, I am emphasising on the injustice meted out to my family by the BJP,” Shrinivas told The Indian Express, before leaving for a bike rally in Palghar city on Friday afternoon. “I want to carry on my father’s work in the tribal areas.”
The 36-year-old debutant will be hoping to win a large number of votes purely on the sympathy factor. Chintaman Wanaga had won the 2014 Lok Sabha polls with a huge margin, polling 5,33,201 votes in comparison to the BVA’s Baliram Jadhav, who polled 2,93,681 votes. Wanaga trounced opponents in each of the six Assembly segments of Palghar.
“Besides my father’s followers, BJP workers on ground are also unhappy with the treatment given to my family. They talk about it in private. Though the BJP is using my father’s photo for campaigning, they haven’t bothered to visit my house since his death,” added Shrinivas.
While Sena posters follow the same narrative, senior Sena leaders anticipate that the sympathy wave would work only in the Dahanu Assembly segment and adjoining areas. “Wanaga has a strong sympathy factor in Talasari area that falls in the Dahanu Assembly seat. The factor will also work in the adjoining areas such as Vikramgad, Palghar and Boisar where Wanga had worked. It is unlikely to work in urban areas such as Vasai and Nallasopara,” said a local Sena leader, adding that the party has focussed on door-to-door campaigning and has completed two rounds so far.
In the October 2014 Assembly polls, the Sena won one of the six seats here, finishing second in four others. “Wanaga’s support base included Sena workers as well. We had supported him in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. So, those votes are with us now,” said Anil Desai, Sena MP and party general secretary.
He added that the Sena’s campaign has also focused on taking forward Wanaga’s legacy, opposing the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project and the Vadhavan port in Dahanu, both involving displacement or loss of land for locals. “Wanaga had opposed the bullet train and the port projects as it would render the tribals landless. We are also opposing the same projects and are carrying forward his work,” added Desai.
The BJP, which has fielded former Congressman Rajendra Gavit, is banking on North Indian votes in the Nallasopara, Virar and Boisar areas. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, cabinet minister Rita Bahuguna Joshi, state minister Anil Rajbhar, BJP’s Delhi state president and MP Manoj Tiwari and a few other legislators have campaigned for Gavit, alongside leaders from Mumbai and Thane.
“We are sure that the North Indians will vote us en block to win the bypoll,” said Jaiprakash Thakur, senior BJP leader and state president of the BJP’s North Indian cell, who is handling the responsibility of wooing the North Indian voters for the bypoll.
Another BJP leader said a division of Marathi votes would work in the BJP’s favour. “As Sena and BVA are in the fray, the Marathi votes will be divided. Besides, we have the support of Vivek Pandit-led Sramjeevi Sanghatana, which has some influence in the tribal belt,” said a BJP leader, adding that BJP core voter base remains intact even after the Wanga family’s move to the Sena.
The Ramdas Athawale-led Republican Party of India, which is supporting the BJP candidate, also enjoys some support in pockets. But how well the BVA’s Baliram Jadhav performs could be the deciding factor for the Sena’s hopes.
Of the six Assembly segments, the BVA has three MLAs — in Vasai, Nallasopara and Boisar. BJP has two MLAs, in Dahanu and Vikramgad, while the Sena has a lone MLA from the Palghar Assembly seat.
The BVA, which also controls the Vasai Virar Municipal Corporation, believes they will retain the number one position in their three Assembly segments. “We are with all the communities throughout the year and we don’t discriminate on community lines. So, we will retain our vote bank in our three Assembly constituencies,” said candidate Jadhav, a former MP.
Interestingly, Hitendra Thakur and Sena president Uddhav Thackeray had an unexpected and unplanned meeting in Vikramgad constituency on Thursday during campaigning. Sena leaders brushed off the little chat as ‘accidental’ given that the two leaders almost bumped into each other during campaigning, refuting all talks of any “understanding” with the BVA.
Congress’s Damodar Shingada and CPI(M)’s Kiran Gahala are the others in the fray. The voting will take place on May 28.