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What's at stake for veterans, heavyweights in Maharashtra

In the rural heartland, where BJP had limited presence, Fadnavis has cajoled and coerced ageing Congress-NCP satraps to cross over.

Sep 22, 2019, 11.14 AM IST
Fadnavis' shootstraight-from-the-hip-style has rejuvenated the party, especially in Mumbai and the bustling MMR region, where Shiv Sena once held sway.
(This story originally appeared in on Sep 22, 2019)
Devendra Fadnavis: CONSOLIDATION
Has honed his political skills in the last five years after being handpicked for the CM's post by Modi. Emerged as BJP's 'sankat-mochak' in Maharashtra in the mould of Pramod Mahajan and Gopinath Munde, the party's bigwigs in the 1990s. His shootstraight-from-the-hip-style has rejuvenated the party, especially in Mumbai and the bustling MMR region, where Shiv Sena once held sway. In the rural heartland, where BJP had limited presence, Fadnavis has cajoled and coerced ageing Congress-NCP satraps to cross over. Will singlehandedly run the assembly poll machine. However, much depends on whether BJP’s first CM in the state can strike a fine caste balance while distributing party tickets. Also, whether the Sena responds favourably to his persuasive skills and accepts a lesser share of seats. An ardent listener of Hindi film songs, Fadnavis' favourite, for now, is: 'Yeh dosti hum nahin todenge.'

Uddhav Thackeray: PROTECTING TURF
'Kya hua tera vaada?' could well be Uddhav Thackeray’s counter to Fadnavis. Uddhav may lack his father’s charisma, but he ensured that the Sena remained afloat in the post-Balasaheb era, making efforts to expand its base. Uddhav now faces a litmus test while BJP makes inroads in Sena’s bastions in Mumbai and other townships. Buoyed by public support for the decision on Article 370 and a governance record largely free of corruption, his ally is demanding a bigger share of assembly seats. A shrewd Kayastha, Uddhav knows how condescending national parties, whether BJP or Congress, can be with their regional partners, but he has little option. Staying out of the NDA would open a can of worms: factionalism, infighting and even a split in the Sena. His survival strategy is to flow with the tide for now as he plans son Aaditya’s initiation into electoral politics, say insiders.

The ageing war-horse isn’t showing it, but close colleagues say Sharad Pawar is deeply hurt by the exodus of NCP functionaries, some of them his confidants, to BJP. Mounting differences in the family, too, is a matter of growing concern for the patriarch. Yet Pawar, who has had his share of highs and lows, is not shying away from the fight. His itinerary for the poll tour is being finalised, and Gama, Pawar’s por tly driver and Man Friday, is ready with the leader’s travel kit. Pawar will fight with his back to the wall to retain NCP’s base in western Maharashtra. They may be small mercies, but Congress hasn’t stirred a controversy over sharing of seats and smaller groups such as Raju Shetti’s Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana and PWP too have sworn allegiance to the Baramati baron.

'Khaaya piya kuchch nahin, glass toda bara aana.' This iconic Mumbai adage sums up Sonia Gandhi's dilemma, according to dynasty loyalists, who claim she and her family members are being made to pay for the sins of local Congress czars. Even if it were true, the fact is neither Sonia nor Rahul have lifted a finger to stem the rot in the state unit.

Congress' decline in Maharashtra, once the party's stronghold and the centre of a robust co-operative movement, is, to quote a former civil servant, singularly Olympian. Sonia Gandhi has to take a hard look at goings-on in the Maharashtra Congress and work closely with NCP and smaller groups if she is keen on her party retaining a measure of significance and clout in the state, which accounts for the second biggest chunk of Parliament and assembly seats after Uttar Pradesh.

Prakash Ambedkar: THE BIG BREAK
Accused of talking down to the Congress by suggesting a 50-50 seat-sharing ratio for the assembly polls after the Lok Sabha debacle, Prakash Ambedkar may be peeved at the state of the ‘MIM-Bhim alliance’—talks with Owaisi are not making headway. Yet the man whose Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, along with the MIM, cost the Congress-NCP dear in more than five LS constituencies by splitting Dalit and Muslim votes, is hoping for a breakthrough in this election. He has already been 'anointed' opposition leader by Fadnavis. The poll outcome will determine if VBA is here to stay. And whether, by questioning Congress-NCP’s commitment to the state’s Phule-Shahu-Ambedkar tradition, he does end up strengthening saffron forces. His party may close in on Dalit pocketboroughs in Vidarbha and Marathawada and in Mumbai’s Worli, Kandivli and Chembur constituencies.

Asaduddin Owaisi: THE MINORITY VOTE
Even if the VBA-AIMIM pact has come unstuck, there is hope for Owaisi’s outfit. And if the alliance is revived, a further erosion of the Congress-NCP vote bank in several constituencies is likely, as it happened during the g eneral elections. The MIM has considerable presence in Aurangabad, where it seized the Lok Sabha seat from Shiv Sena, and in several Mumbai constituencies.

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