MAHARASHTRA: POACHING SEASON IS ON
Defection season strikes, but the saffron party can’t afford to slip in the bypolls
Devendra Fadnavis was shocked when on May 2 he realised that the Shiv Sena had poached Shrinivas Vanga, son of the late BJP MP Chintaman Vanga whose demise had necessitated the May 28 bypoll in Palghar, near Mumbai. “The Shiv Sena has not done a good thing,” the chief minister told reporters in Mumbai.
It was all the more a shock as Fadnavis had expected Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray to return the BJP favour in not contesting the assembly byelections in Bandra and Palghar in 2015 and 2017. Preoccupied with strategising for another byelection—Bhandara-Gondia, after incumbent party MP Nana Patole defected to the Congress over differences with Prime Minister Narendra Modi—the CM clearly did not see it coming.
Thackeray’s decision to contest Palghar has given the bypoll an interesting twist. Left without a candidate, the BJP has roped in Rajendra Gavit of the Congress. A former MoS, Gavit still has clout in the area despite two assembly poll defeats. With just one seat in the six assembly segments in the Palghar LS constituency, the Shiv Sena’s prospects are bleak. But it could spoil things for the BJP in Palghar town, the biggest urban centre in the constituency. Also in the fray are the Congress and the Bahujan Vikas Aghadi, a local political front with three MLAs. The multi-cornered contest has raised the BJP’s hopes for a division of opposition votes. “If the BJP does not win in Palghar, the soul of Vangaji won’t forgive us. Come what may, we will win there,” says Fadnavis. Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut is giving the BJP the you-reapwhat-you-sow analogy, citing instances in past local body elections when the BJP hijacked the party’s candidates.
The byelection in Bhandara-Gondia, where the Congress and NCP have come together, is also looking tight. Here, Madhukar Kukde (NCP) faces Deepak Patle of the BJP. And though the BJP holds five of the six assembly segments in the constituency, it’s a prestige fight for NCP heavyweight Praful Patel. The former Union civil aviation minister represented the constituency twice before he was defeated in 2014. The byelection here is widely seen as a contest between Fadnavis’s political manoeuvring and Patel’s clout.
But here’s why Fadnavis cannot afford to let either Palghar or BhandaraGondia slip away: defeat would mean the BJP falls short of retaining its independent majority in the Lok Sabha. Fadnavis won’t want to be the bearer of bad tidings for the party.
DEFEAT IN EITHER OF THE LS BYPOLLS WILL SEE THE BJP LOSE ITS MAJORITY
CHANGING COLOUR Ex-Congress leader Rajendra Gavit from Palghar with CM Devendra Fadnavis