MA­HA­RASH­TRA: POACH­ING SEA­SON IS ON

De­fec­tion sea­son strikes, but the saf­fron party can’t af­ford to slip in the by­polls

India Today - - STATES - By Ki­ran D. Tare

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

AN­SHU­MAN POYREKAR/GETTY IM­AGES

CHANG­ING COLOUR Ex-Congress leader Ra­jen­dra Gavit from Pal­ghar with CM Deven­dra Fad­navis

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