In Maharashtra, the competition is between BJP and Sena

In Maharashtra, the October 21 Assembly election is a competition between BJP and Shiv Sena as to who between the allies gets more seats, and not between their ruling alliance and the opposition Congress-NCP front.

In India’s second-most populous -- and third largest -- state, it’s clear that despite their differences on issues like Aarey and Nanar, the BJP-Sena alliance has an edge. 

Also, it is a fact that the BJP and Sena have had a blow hot-blow cold relationship over the last three decades but the cementing factors -- Hindutva and the Marathi-manoos – have held.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray share a good working relationship and keep each other in good humour despite strong differences on multiple issues.

In the 288-member Maharashtra Assembly, the BJP (122) and Sena (63) has a combined strength of 185, plus smaller allies. This was when they had contested separately in 2014. In the Lok Sabha, the allies have together held 41 of the 48 seats since 2014. In the impending Assembly election, the BJP-Sena alliance is said to be ahead in 230-plus seats. The BJP had set a target -- “ab ki baar, 220 paar.”

Political observers say that the BJP-Sena will surely cross the current strength of 185 and may land up near the target of 220, and post-election, there will likely be a tussle for top portfolios like revenue, home, housing, urban development and public works -- all currently held by BJP.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president and Union Home Minister Amit Shah had projected Fadnavis as the CM face again, Shiv Sena has projected Uddhav’s son Aditya for the top job. 

There is likely to be some hard bargaining after 24 October, the day the results are out, especially if Sena matches the BJP’s performance. If it does, the Shiv Sena could well demand the CM’s post, or extract some key portfolios or get a deputy CM post.

Aditya, the president of Yuva Sena, is making an electoral debut, not just his own but his family’s, from Worli in Mumbai.

The presence of more than 30 rebels from the BJP and Sena camps could disturb equations, though. The BJP leadership is in touch with the rebels and has also ensured that smaller allies like Ramdas Athawale’s Republican Party of India (Athawale) and Mahadev Jankar’s Rashtriya Samaj Pasha contest on the BJP symbol, giving it more bargaining power in all post-poll scenarios.

What is clear is that across the five large geographical regions of Mumbai-Konkan, Western Maharashtra, Marathwada, Khandesh-North Maharashtra and Vidarbha, the saffron combine leads.

The Congress is missing its national leaders and the fire in the belly; the NCP is facing problems after its founder-president and Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar and his nephew Ajit Pawar were booked in the Rs 25,000 crore Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank scam. Pawar’s key aide and former civil aviation minister Praful Patel is facing an ED probe for links with former Dawood Ibrahim-aide Iqbal Mirchi.

Even maintaining their strengths of 41 and 40, respectively, will not be an easy task for Congress and NCP.

Between the Lok Sabha polls in May and now, two dozen leaders of Congress and NCP have joined the BJP and Shiv Sena. The maximum defections have been from the NCP to the BJP.

The continuing leadership crisis in Congress and the infighting in its Maharashtra and Mumbai units are out in the open, sore wounds that refuse to heal. 

The NCP’s strength in Western Maharashtra has waned as several of its leaders have walked out. Its original team members, like the  Mohite-Patil family of Solapur, the royal family of Bhosales in Satara, the Mahadik family in Kolhapur and leaders like Jaykumar Gore, Dilip Sopal, Rashmi Bagal  have all moved to the BJP or Shiv Sena. Harshawardhan Patil moved from Congress to BJP.

Pawar’s grandnephew Rohit Pawar is making his poll debut from Karjat-Jamkhed and is pitted against BJP minister Prof Ram Shinde. Another of Pawar’s grandnephews, Parth, lost the Maval Lok Sabha polls.

Similarly, in the Konkan region, the Ranes have joined the BJP. Veteran Narayan Rane, the former CM in the erstwhile Sena-BJP government, who had moved to Congress, is now with the BJP. 

The Prakash Ambedkar-led Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, which damaged the Congress and NCP in the Lok Sabha polls, is contesting over 270 seats, although it does not appear to be getting any traction.  

The Asaduddin Owaisi-led All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen is contesting 50-plus seats, but it does not seem to be working for the party.

On the other hand, Uddhav’s estranged cousin and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena president Raj Thackeray, whose party is contesting around 100 seats, mainly in Mumbai and its suburbs, Pune and Thane, has declared that he is working to build a formidable opposition.

The BJP is riding high on the issue of nationalism and its leaders have campaigned extensively on the issues of abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35A from Jammu & Kashmir, the Balakot air strike and the surgical strikes along the Line of Control, while also adding on a development agenda. The Shiv Sena has raised issues of the common man and of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, seeking to evoke memories of Bal Thackeray’s support for it. 

On the other hand, the Congress-NCP raised the issue of drought, agrarian distress, farmers’ suicides, floods. The BJP, however, turned the tables by saying that farmers’ suicides were a result of poor governance of the erstwhile Congress-NCP government. 

The BJP campaign was spearheaded by Modi, Shah and Fadnavis, the Sena’s by Uddhav. For NCP, it was Sharad Pawar, but Congress’ Rahul Gandhi arrived late on the scene.

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