Sena vs Sena to play out again in Maharashtra as Phase 5 sees contest moving to ‘Maximum City’ Mumbai

This will be final phase of polls in the State; the outcome may determine whether Shinde or Thackeray rules the hearts and minds of the rank-and-file Shiv Sainik; feuds between allies BJP and Shinde Sena could adversely impact their candidates

Published - May 17, 2024 04:02 am IST - Pune

Polling officials check the election materials ahead of distribution for the 5th phase of Lok Sabha elections, in Mumbai on May 16, 2024.

Polling officials check the election materials ahead of distribution for the 5th phase of Lok Sabha elections, in Mumbai on May 16, 2024. | Photo Credit: ANI

The 2022 split within the Shiv Sena and the bitter feuding between the rival Sena factions led by Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Sena (UBT) chief Uddhav Thackeray will be the leitmotif playing across most of the 14 Lok Sabha seats which go to polls in the fifth and final phase of the general election in the State.

Notwithstanding the rhetoric about who is the “real Sena”, the outcome will decisively determine whether Mr. Shinde or Mr. Thackeray rules the hearts and minds of the rank-and-file Shiv Sainik, and which leader is the true legatee of late Sena founder Bal Thackeray.

Several of the Lok Sabha seats in this phase, which are spread over Mumbai city, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), Nashik district and parts of the erstwhile Khandesh province, will witness straight contests between Mr. Shinde’s Sena and Mr. Thackeray’s Sena (UBT).

The outcome of the seven constituencies in Mumbai city also have important political ramifications in the future, as it will determine which faction controls the cash-rich Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) – the nerve-centre of Mumbai’s politics – where the Thackeray family has held absolute sway for two decades.

While the BJP undeniably has a robust organisational structure in most of these 14 seats, they have been forced to make concessions owing to Mr. Shinde driving a hard bargain. The Chief Minister, in order to break the image of him being labelled a “BJP puppet”, haggled with his saffron ally to get key Mumbai seats in his kitty.

However, observers feel poor candidate selection on seats like Mumbai South and Mumbai North West could badly hit the ruling Mahayuti coalition.

Also Read | With new symbols and split entities, it’s back to the campaign drawing board for parties in Maharashtra

The Shinde-led Shiv Sena has fielded MLA Ravindra Waikar as the Mahayhuti’s candidate for the Mumbai North West Lok Sabha seat.

Formerly with Mr. Thackeray, Mr. Waikar defected to Mr. Shinde’s camp after feeling the heat of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in an alleged money laundering case. He faces the Sena (UBT)’s Amol Kirtikar, the son of incumbent MP Gajanan Kirtikar who, incidentally, is with Mr. Shinde’s Sena.

The crucial Mumbai South constituency – where billionaires and skyscrapers haughtily tower over plebeian slums – sees incumbent MP, Sena (UBT) leader and Thackeray loyalist Arvind Sawant, facing Shinde Sena leader and MLA Yamini Jadhav. Both Ms. Jadhav and her husband Yashwant Jadhav – a big leader in the BMC - were under the Income Tax department’s scanner owing to discrepancies in their IT returns.

For the local BJP leadership, the Shinde Sena’s fielding of Mr. Waikar and Ms. Jadhav comes as an embarrassment as the BJP cadre had accused them of corruption.

Also Read | Maharashtra’s war of factions | Sena vs Sena for 13 seats; NCP vs NCP for two?

While Mr. Sawant, seeking his third term, earlier had the backing of the BJP’s Gujarati-speaking voters in Mumbai South, he now finds Muslim support (particularly in the Bhendi Bazaar and Masjid Bandar areas) given that a significant number of minority voters have gravitated to Mr. Thackeray.

Mumbai North, considered a BJP citadel, has Union Minister Piyush Goyal facing off against Congress’s Bhushan Patil. Barring a 10-year period when the seat was held by the Congress, the constituency has been held by the BJP since 1989, being the stronghold of veteran Mumbai BJP leader Ram Naik.

Another key contest is in North Central seat, where the BJP has fielded high-profile lawyer Ujjwal Nikam, who was the special public prosecutor in some of biggest terror and crime cases including the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts and the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

Mr. Nikam faces Mumbai Congress city chief Varsha Gaikwad (the Opposition MVA’s candidate).

The split within the Shiv Sena is also likely to reflect in a split along linguistic lines, with a Marathi-speaking vs Gujarati-speaking voter split playing out in the Mumbai seats. Given that the BJP’s traditional vote base in Mumbai consists of north Indian voters, observers note a strong undercurrent of resentment among Marathi-speaking voters against the BJP for having toppled Mr. Thackeray unceremoniously when he was CM helming the previous MVA government.

Sena-BJP factional fights

Another problem for the Mahayuti is the intense factional fights between the Shinde Sena and the BJP. A prime instance of this is the crucial Kalyan seat (in Thane district) where incumbent MP Shrikant Shinde – son of Mr. Shinde - is seeking a hat-trick as he faces neophyte Kalyani Darekar of Sena (UBT).

While Mr. Shrikant looks strong on paper, the clear and present danger to him comes from within as there is tremendous resentment against Shinde junior from the local BJP leadership of Thane.

The animus between the allies reached a crescendo when BJP MLA from Kalyan East, Ganpat Gaikwad shot at Shinde Sena leader Mahesh Gaikwad inside a police station in Ulhasnagar.

Furthermore, there has been an overwhelming perception since the split that Mr. Shinde has not been able to expand his influence beyond Thane, while most of the corporators and cadre still remain with Mr. Thackeray.

Outside Mumbai and Thane, Nashik is arguably the most hotly-contested seat and another case of discord among the Mahayuti allies. Sena incumbent MP Hemant Godse squares off the Sena (UBT)’s Rajabhau Waje here.

The BJP brass in Delhi was reluctant to give Mr. Godse a ticket, and wanted Cabinet Minister and senior Nationalist Congress Party (Ajit Pawar faction) leader Chhagan Bhujbal to contest. Frustrated by the Mahayuti’s vacillation in announcing a candidate, Mr. Bhujbal had voluntarily dropped out. Yet, it remains to be seen how ardently he will campaign for Mr. Godse.

Complicating the intra-alliance rift are the woes of onion farmers in Nashik, who have long been upset with the Central government’s ban on export of onions.

The Centre’s recent decision to lift that ban has failed to cut much ice with farmers or traders in Nashik as was evident during Prime Minister Narendra Modi rally in Nashik, where police were forced to detain protesting farmers ahead of the event.

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