LS polls: Sharad Pawar, Uddhav fighting for political survival

PTI, Apr 7, 2024, 8:37 AM IST

As the campaign for the Lok Sabha elections gathers momentum, Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray, the leaders of two prominent regional parties in Maharashtra, are fighting a battle for political survival. The polls are also an acid test for Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and his deputy and NCP chief Ajit Pawar as they have cast their lots with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by splitting their respective parties.

But the challenge is tougher for Thackeray and Sharad Pawar as they are out of power and have lost control of their parties — Shiv Sena and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), respectively — along with the original name and electoral symbol.

The Election Commission and the Maharashtra assembly speaker have recognised the Ajit Pawar-led NCP and Shinde-led Sena as the real NCP and the real Shiv Sena.

Senior journalist and political analyst Prakash Akolkar told PTI that both the leaders need to put up an impressive performance in the polls, or else they risk political extinction.

”Uddhav Thackeray needs to get at least six to seven MPs elected to keep his flock together till the assembly polls which are due later this year,” Akolkar said.

Thackeray had to contest as many Lok Sabha seats as his party contested when he was a BJP ally in 2019, and he is doing just that, declaring 21 candidates so far notwithstanding the Congress staking claim to some of these seats, the senior journalist noted.

The NCP (Sharadchandra Pawar) is contesting 10 seats as per the seat-sharing formula worked out with his MVA allies Sena (UBT) and Congress.

But Akolkar said the key seat for Pawar senior is his home turf Baramati, where his daughter and three-time MP Supriya Sule is facing a challenge from Ajit Pawar’s wife Sunetra Pawar.

”If Sharad Pawar loses Baramati, everything is lost for him. This is a battle between him and his nephew Ajit who has managed and controlled Baramati constituency for the family all these years,” Akolkar said.

While Pawar, 83, has never lost an election in his political career spanning more than five decades, Uddhav Thackeray has never contested a direct election. When he became chief minister, Thackeray was elected to the legislative council. The Shinde faction often taunts him for not stepping out of house when he held the top post in the state.

But in the run-up to the elections, Thackeray has been travelling to different parts of the state, and his rallies are getting good response.

Pawar, too, is on the move while also reaching out to his old rivals in Pune district (where Baramati constituency is located) like the Thopates of Congress to ensure his daughter has a smooth sailing.

With the MVA’s seat-sharing talks with Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar’s Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) falling through, the direct contest between the MVA and Mahayuti alliance has become a triangular fight, and in Akolkar’s opinion it would benefit the ruling alliance.

Abhay Deshpande, another senior journalist, pointed out that the elections will also test the claim of Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray that the traditional voters and cadres of their respective parties are loyal to them.

There is also unrest in BJP cadres, and it will have to be seen if they work wholeheartedly for candidates of Ajit Pawar-led NCP and Shinde-led Shiv Sena, Deshpande added.

”Splits in political parties is not a new phenomenon. But for the first time, rebels have hijacked the original parties after the split and got recognition,” he noted.

”The slogan of 400-plus seats is meant to motivate BJP workers. But to realise that goal, the BJP will have to retain the 2019 tally of 41 seats (which it won in alliance with undivided Sena) in Maharashtra. Due to the alignment and realignment of political equations, this is going to be a challenge,” Deshpande said.

Harshal Pradhan, a former journalist and now a close associate of Uddhav Thackeray, claimed these elections are really about the survival of the BJP and its leadership.

The BJP used central probe agencies to weaken and intimidate opposition parties, and its modus operandi is to accuse opposition leaders of corruption and then induct them into the party fold, he alleged.

When Uddhav Thackeray was in power as CM for two-and-a-half years, he worked to mitigate the damage caused by cyclones in Konkan and save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic, Pradhan said.

Thackeray’s growing political stature during this period made the BJP insecure, he claimed.

Clyde Crasto, spokesperson of the NCP (SP), echoed the same view.

”This election is a battle for survival for the BJP, because they are afraid they will lose, and therefore resorting to cheap tactics like breaking up parties and families,” he alleged.

Ratnakar Mahajan, senior Congress leader and political commentator, said,” Both Shinde and Ajit Pawar are past 60. To start a new innings at this age is not easy. But they did this (split their parties) not for power but to avoid possible action by the ED, Income Tax and CBI which the Union government is using to harass opposition leaders.” Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray will be looking for vindication of their political stands in these elections, Mahajan opined.

”After the 2019 assembly elections, an unusual alliance emerged through the initiative of these leaders. There was dissension within the Shiv Sena about joining hands with Pawar. But the two leaders went ahead and Thackeray became the chief minister. Now they are fighting to retain their hold over voters in the state,” he said.

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