A lack of “josh” (enthusiasm) among the Shiv Sainiks seems to have kept the BJP on tenterhooks in Bhiwandi Lok Sabha constituency, especially with the opposition Congress trying to encash on the situation.
BJP’s sitting MP Kapil Moreshwar Patil is seeking a second term against Congress’ Suresh Kashinath Taware here. In 2014 Lok Sabha, Patil had won with a margin of 1.09 lakh votes.
A BJP leader, requesting anonymity, said that taking note of the “indifference” among the Sainiks, the top leadership of both the Sena and BJP had served its cadre with a stern warning: keep in sight the larger goal — Narendra Modi.
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The fissures between the now allies, the party leader said, has its origin in the bitterly contested local bodies — zilla parishad and gram panchayat — elections in Bhiwandi over the past four-and-half-years. In absence of a strong Congress-NCP candidate, almost all the elections to local bodies saw the BJP and Sena lock horns to expand their respective organisation for political one-upmanship.
“The Sena’s anger is not directed against Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, nor Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Their anger is limited to our candidate, Patil. They hold him responsible for anti-Sena politics,” another senior BJP functionary in Bhiwandi said.
Entrusted with the task to activate the party’s cadre, especially in rural Bhiwandi, senior Cabinet minister and Sena leader Eknath Shinde, however, claimed that the Sainiks always followed the orders of the Sena president. “Once Uddhav Thackeray has directed Sainiks to work for Sena-BJP alliance, there is no question of any body disobeying.”
Interestingly, Congress’ Taware has been banking on the unrest among the Sena-BJP to work to in the party’s advantage. The party has also tried to rework its strategy to focus on rural Bhiwandi. However, its failure to reach out to larger segment, sources say, may mar the prospects of the party.
“There is a general feeling among our senior leaders that the Congress has not done enough to exploit the situation to its advantage in polls,” Congress’ leader Irfan Patel said. Traditionally a Congress citadel, Patel said, not a single big leader had campaigned in Bhiwandi for its candidate.
This, however, is not the only problem festering the party.
The Muslim vote share, which has conventionally remained with the Congress, is apparently facing a split in presence of Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi’s Arun Sawant. Also, the Kunbhi Sena leader Vishal Patil’s decision to join the BJP has come as a setback for the Congress.
In 2009, Patil had contested from the seat on Congress ticket, while in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, he had contested as an Independent.
“I took the decision to withdraw from the contest and instead support Modi and BJP in 2019… it is better to support development agenda of Fadnavis and Modi,” Patil said. “We cannot deny huge development projects are underway in Bhiwandi.”
Of the total 18 lakh voters in the constituency, Muslims and Kunbhi-Senas each account for four lakh, followed by the agri community with two lakh voters.
The remaining are mostly Hindus, representing various caste and sub-castes, including migrants. The constituency also has sizeable number of adivasis and powerloom workers.
With five MLAs, the saffron allies have a strong base in the six Assembly segments in Bhiwandi Lok Sabha seat. The NCP has one MLA from Shahpur.