The political temperature of Maharashtra has been rising dramatically in recent days, with major political leaders from all parties out on intensive tours of the State to boost their parties’ visibility ahead of the upcoming local body election and the general and Assembly elections scheduled for next year.
Looking at the packed schedule of all major parties, one would think that elections are just around the corner. But that is not the case. As the issues of ward delimitation (specific to Mumbai) as well as OBC reservation in local body elections are still before the Supreme Court, the elections to 14 municipalities, including Mumbai and Thane, as well as 96 municipal councils and 10 zilla parishads are pending. Observers believe that these elections could be held in October-November this year.
The Lok Sabha election is expected around May 2024, while the Assembly election is due only in the second half of 2024. According to reports, the Maharashtra unit of the BJP has given a proposal to the central leadership to hold Assembly elections along with the general election.
Meeting the public
From April 2 to June 11 this year, the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition plans to address seven public meetings. The first one was held at Chhatrapati Sambhajinagar (formerly Aurangabad). The next six rallies are expected to be held in Nagpur, Mumbai, Pune, Kolhapur, Nashik, and Amravati.
After June 2022, when the BJP succeeded in pulling down the Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA government and subsequently broke the Shiv Sena, the State’s political scene has been on the boil.
It appears that Thackeray, after losing various legal battles with his nemesis Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, who ousted him from power, seems to have decided that the only way to get back at his rivals is to hit the State with mega political gatherings.
His first rally was held in Khed in Ratnagiri district on March 5, a stronghold of his party, the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray), in the Konkan region. In his address he slammed Shinde as well as BJP leaders such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.
Uddhav Thackeray said: “When the BJP was untouchable, Balasaheb [Thackeray] stood with it. But now the same BJP wants to finish the party founded by Balasaheb. They will not succeed.”
He held another rally in Malegaon in Nashik district on March 26 and plans to address five more in different regions.
Anil Parab, former Minister and Member of Legislative Council (MLC) from the Shiv Sena (UBT) said: “People have not accepted the decision of the Election Commission. They are with Uddhav saheb and want to meet him. So, he has decided to meet the public all over the State .”
Shinde, who was a close associate of Thackeray for 15 years, understands the implications of such rallies. In a bid to nullify the impact of Thackeray’s speeches, he decided to address an ‘Uttar Sabha’ (reply rally) in Khed, two weeks later. He also used the occasion to announce popular projects benefiting the local area, hoping to woo the electorate.
Kiran Pawaskar, chief spokesperson of Shiv Sena (Shinde), said: “The new government of Shinde-Fadnavis has proved its mettle within six months. Today, all pending projects are on track. So, the Chief Minister going to all areas to showcase his work to the people.”
Uddhav Thackeray, in spite of being down, is clearly not out. As the sympathy wave builds in his favour, his alliance partners, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), have joined him.
Ajit Pawar, NCP leader, said: “At the first MVA rally at Chhatrapati Sambhajinagar, we saw that people remained in their seats till the end. The public was enthusiastic and their response was spontaneous. People have not accepted the Shinde-Fadnavis government the way it is made out to be. These rallies will give voice to people’s anger.”
Savarkar in focus
Not to be outdone, the BJP and the Shiv Sena (Shinde) were ready with a counter attack. Their first step was to extract mileage from Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s controversial remark on the freedom fighter V.D. Savarkar, an icon in Maharshtra, by taking out a ‘Savarkar Gaurav Yatra’, which started on April 2 and will end on April 9. Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shelar said: “By joining hands with a party that disrespects Savarkar, Uddhav Thackeray has betrayed the legacy of his father. The response to our rallies is enough to understand that voters will teach a lesson to Uddhav Thackeray as well as the Congress and the NCP in the upcoming elections.”
The BJP and the Shiv Sena (Shinde) also took out a ‘Jan Ashirvad Yatra’ in all the six Lok Sabha constituencies in Mumbai. It was an attempt to show the unity of both the parties. The yatra went on for 11 days.
Meanwhile, the BJP has is continuing with its running programme of Union Ministers visiting assigned constituencies twice a month.
For instance, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has been given charge of Baramati, an NCP stronghold represented by Sharad Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule. Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia has been given the task of focusing on Kolhapur, while the Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports Anurag Thakur has been asked to concentrate on Kalyan constituency, represented by Shinde’s son, Dr Shrikant Shinde.
Going beyond these, the BJP is planning to connect with 3 crore people across the State through various other programmes. This campaign started on April 6, the party’s foundation day, and will go on for 15 days. Eknath Shinde plans to visit Ayodhya on April 9, where, it is learnt, he will collect the Shiv Dhanushya (bow and arrow) from the mahant (chief priest) of the Ram temple. Shinde’s party plans to organise 25 rallies covering every district where the Shiv Dhanushya will be displayed before the public. Significantly, the Shiv Sena’s election symbol is the bow and arrow, which Shinde won from Thackeray in a legal battle settled by the Election Comission.
The Congress, which is usually late to the game, has woken up and plans to hold a rally led by Rahul Gandhi in Nagpur on April 20. In recent legislative council elections, this region has surprisingly gone back to the Congress. The region was a Congress bastion until 2014, when the BJP snatched it from the grand old party. The Congress is hoping for a revival in fortunes by leveraging Rahul Gandhi’s disqualification from the Lok Sabha.