Amid the political slugfest ensuing in Maharashtra between the Mahayuti and Maha-aghadi, the contest in Thane is also closely watched especially since BJP won here in 2014, putting aside NCP and Shiv Sena.
BJP’s Sanjay Kelkar won his first Assembly election in 2014 after defeating Shiv Sena’s Ravindra Pathak in Thane. This time, Kelkar’s manifesto is a compilation of all planned civic and state projects from metro world to water and transport, reflective of the infrastructural changes the city has witnessed in his present term.
Owala-Majiwada, Kopri-Panchpakadi and Mumbra-Kalwa are also important in the 18 constituencies in Thane district.
In Owala-Majiwada constituency, incumbent Pratap Sarnaik of the Shiv Sena is also focusing on the Metro construction project. “In my constituency, metro work has already begun to connect Kasarvadavali-Wadala-CST at a cost of Rs 30,000 crore. I want to ensure maximum development by organising events like the Sanskruti (Upvan) Arts Festival and building tourist spots in Gaimukh chowpatty and Ghodbunder fort,” Sarnaik says.
Sarnaik, who is pitted against Congress’ Vikrant Bhimsen Chavan, is confident that his voter base has increased from 3.5 lakh to 4.5 lakh voters since 2014.
However, residents want more from Sarnaik than fancy events and development projects. Atul Ghangurde, who is in his constituency, shares: “While Sarnaik has renovated the premises of Upvan Lake, I feel he lacks the basic skills which are necessary for a MLA, which is connect with the residents. I would like to see him work towards building a rapport with the people and also improve the road conditions and see to the traffic violations. These matter more than hi-fi development projects.”
Asked if the Mahayuti alliance is now more in favour of the BJP compared to the Sena, Sarnaik argued that Thane has always been with the Shiv Sena and 2014 was just a result of ‘Modiji ka jadu (Modi magic).”
Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP) MLA Jitendra Awhad, meanwhile, does not think there is a Modi wave. The MLA from Mumbra-Kalwa, which has nearly 80 per cent Muslim residents, claimed Maharashtra had outgrown BJP and would vote against the Saffron party’s political arrogance. “There is a strong anti-BJP sentiment in the state as they are not focusing on core issues of Maharashtra such as drought, youth unemployment, shutting down of industries. PM Modi and Amit Shah do not realise, the assembly polls are for Maharashtra, so Kashmir and Pakistan are not the issues to be discussed,” Awhad says.
The NCP MLA has also been critical on the Aarey tree felling issue. After visiting the proposed Metro car shed during the protests in Mumbai, he slammed BJP and wrote in a thread on Twitter, “There is a small garden in Aarey colony which youngsters refer to as ‘Chota Kashmir’. The government has turned it into real Kashmir.”
— Dr.Jitendra Awhad (@Awhadspeaks) October 4, 2019
Awhad’s strategy is to take on the Mahayuti for what he calls their ‘divisive politics’. “I believe in Gandhi and Amedkar’s ideology. I stand firm on my ground of secularism. The BJP is spreading anarchy and not talking about core issues, creating a regional, linguistic, caste divide,” says the NCP MLA. On his party’s alliance in the state with the Congress, he says the ‘yuti’ is not with Rahul Gandhi or Sonia Gandhi, but with Congress’ ideology.
Even as the opposition parties struggle with leaders switching over, Awhad has stuck with the NCP even. When asked if the PMC Bank issue could pose a problem for the party, he says, “The audit by RBI happens in March-April but the case has come up around the time of polls to malign our party leaders.”
NCP supremo Sharad Pawar’s popularity has certainly not dimmed, as Sameer Shinde, a resident of Thane since 2000, reasons, “I’m going to vote for Congress-NCP just because I feel Sharad Pawar is genuine and I must support him. Otherwise all others only give false promises and do not undertake any work.”
Awhad’s infrastructural development plans include road widening and ensuring a regular water supply. The Kalwa bridge which has been under repairs for over two years, is expected to be finished in six months easing traffic in the area.
Whether BJP-Sena will be able to sweep the state assembly elections like their performance during the Lok Sabha polls shall be seen on October 24 when the poll results are declared.
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