The Sena’s surprise move, months after declaring that henceforth it would not contest polls in alliance with the BJP, apparently weighed on the mind of Fadnavis, who recently said chief ministers in the state did not last long.
Incidentally, the fact is that so far the chief minister, who will complete four years in office this October, has not only survived but thrived on such challenges from detractors within and outside and even his rivals concede that he has emerged as a leader.
Political observers say the tussle between the BJP and the Sena could benefit Baliram Jadhav of the Bahujan Vikas Aghadi, who was runner-up in the 2014 polls to Chintaman Wanaga of the BJP, whose death has necessitated the byelection. Jadhav had defeated Wanaga in 2009. A dedicated worker and tribal leader, Wanaga, had earned a special place among his people and his funeral saw thousands attending.
The Bahujan Vikas Aghadi is a local and influential outfit whose leader Hitendra Thakur is known to be close to the chief minister.
But the Sena saw the failure of the BJP to put up Sriniwas Wanaga, son of the late leader, as an opportunity, with party chief Uddhav Thackeray declaring him as the candidate after the Wanaga family met him and complained about the “neglect” by the BJP leadership.
Taken aback by the developments, the BJP had to “import” a candidate from the Congress and announced former Minister Rajendra Gavit as its candidate minutes after inducting him into the party.
The BJP has cried foul and had accused the Sena of “hijacking” its nominee. Reports earlier had it that BJP had plans to put up Tribal Welfare Minister Vishnu Savara.
Though the Congress has put up former MP Damu Shingda as its candidate, the party, as also the National
Congress Party (NCP), could work in the constituency to spite the BJP and drive the wedge further between the BJP and the Sena.
Signals of change in political equations in the state are evident with Sena leaders wary about the growing clout of the BJP, which was till yesterday its “younger brother” in the state. Of late, the Sena’s criticism of the BJP and the Prime Minister has grown. The fact that some National
Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners have lost trust in the BJP was evident with Telugu Desam Party chief Chandrababu Naidu parting ways with the BJP and the ruling alliance recently.
The fight appears mainly between the BJP and the Sena in the tribal seat, adjoining Mumbai. Sangh parivar organisations such as the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram have a vast network there while the Sena is a force to reckon with in adjoining Thane district and the Konkan region.
At the same time, a section of BJP loyalists is not happy about not giving the ticket to Wanaga.
In the other bypoll in Bhandara-Gondia in the Vidarbha region too, the ruling BJP is leaving nothing to chance. The Sena has not put up a candidate here and the Congress is backing the NCP in this seat, which was once the stronghold of NCP leader Praful Patel.
Vidarbha is the home turf of the chief minister as also Union Minister Nitin Gadkari. The Bhandara-Gondia bypoll has been necessitated following the resignation of former BJP MP Nana Patole last year. He subsequently joined the Congress. Though there are over 20 candidates in the fray, there is likely to be a direct fight between the NCP’s Madhukar Kukde and the BJP’s Hemant Patle.
Unlike in the last Lok Sabha polls, there is no Modi wave this time in Maharashtra but luck as well as some smart work has helped the BJP and the chief minister so far. With the Lok Sabha polls just a year away, an anti-BJP line-up has begun in the state with the Congress and NCP joining hands and Sharad Pawar busy in attracting smaller players.