Cornered BJP to face major bypoll challenge in Maharashtra next month

Narendra Modi and Amit Shah
The BJP is facing a major bypoll test in Maharashtra next month, and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis will have to show that he is no Yogi Adityanath and is undaunted by the anti-saffron forces, including the supposed ally Shiv Sena, joining ranks.

The bypolls to the Gondia-Bhandara and Palghar Lok Sabha seats are being held at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah are trying to wrest power from the Congress in Karnataka amid stiff resistance from a feisty Siddaramaiah, the state’s chief minister.

Maharashtra is no ordinary state. It has the highest number of Lok Sabha seats (48) in the country after Uttar Pradesh (80), where things appear to have started going sour for the BJP after its rivals, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, sprang a surprise by joining hands in the Gorakhpur and Phulpur bypolls, handing out a shock defeat to the saffron party.

The talk is that the Maharashtra byelections could overlap with the Karnataka polls, scheduled for May 12.

It is expected that Gondia-Bhandara will see a fierce fight because the Congress-National Congress Party (NCP) will be joining forces at a time when the Modi wave has spent itself and a realignment of political forces is taking place. The bypoll is taking place because BJP MP Nana Patole resigned some six months ago, accusing the Centre and the state government of ignoring farmers. Patole had defeated NCP leader Praful Patel, who had represented the constituency four times, by about 150,000 votes.

Patole has now joined the Congress and therefore the fight has become even more a matter of prestige. The seat is not a traditional BJP seat and before shifting to the BJP, Patole was a rebel Congressman. He is not contesting the bypolls because he wants to go to the Assembly. 

Palghar, in Thane district of Konkan, could be relatively safe for the BJP, given the fact that party MP Chitaman Vanga, whose death has caused the bypoll, has a lot of goodwill in the ST constituency, which is close to Mumbai.

The bypolls are a test for opposition stalwart Sharad Pawar too because the NCP supremo is in the thick of forming a grand alliance with the Congress and a host of smaller parties including the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghtanam, led by Raju Shetti, which was the first NDA constituent to break away on the issue of farmers’ distress.

Pawar is planning to rope in the Peasants and Workers Party, which has a base in parts of the Konkan region, the Left parties and the Samajwadi Party.

Maharashtra has become the first major state where the anti-BJP forces have grown by the day. The latest is the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, with its chief, Raj Thackeray, having called for a “Modi-mukt Bharat”.

Though all detractors of Modi are not on the same page, some could indirectly help the Congress-NCP in a big way.

A Shiv Sena leader said his party was not interested in contesting the bypolls because the costs were heavy and the elected candidates could be MP for just six months. Parting ways with the BJP, the Shiv Sena has announced its plan to go solo from the next polls.

This is being interpreted as a Shiv Sena plan to sabotage the BJP campaign. It could be a golden opportunity for the Sena to send the message to the BJP the consequences of a split in the Hindutva vote and remind Modi that 2019 is not 2014.

Vidarbha is the bastion of both Fadnavis and Union Minister Nitin Gadkari. In the state, though Fadnavis has emerged a leader, he has failed to build a team. On the electoral front, he has, however, delivered in polls at various levels, including municipal elections. Many within the BJP are unhappy at the rise of Fadnavis and Modi’s patronage he has. 

Fadnavis visited Gondia-Bhandara two months ago to energise the local unit of the party.

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