MUMBAI: The by-elections to Palghar and Bhandara-Gondia Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra will be held tomorrow for which all four major parties have pulled out all stops as the outcome is likely to have a bearing on their future course.
The Shiv Sena has fielded late BJP MP Chintaman Wanaga's son Shriniwas Wanaga in Palghar, much to the dislike of the BJP which has in-turn nominated Congress deserter Rajendra Gavit.
During the bitter poll campaign, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray launched an all out attack on the ally BJP.
In a veiled attack on the BJP, he called upon opposition parties to fight unitedly against the "calamity which has befallen the country".
"I want to tell the Congress, the NCP, even communists, don't go separate ways. Let's come together to fight the calamity which has befallen the country. Otherwise, by the time we realise it, it would be too late," Thackeray said at a campaign rally.
However, state Congress chief Ashok Chavan said his party will have nothing to do with the Sena.
"We both are ideologically different. We feel both saffron partners will join hands for the 2019 polls, otherwise they will fight independently and come together for post-poll alliance, just like they did in 2014. Their strategy is to criticise each other and get more votes," he said.
The bypoll in Palghar was necessitated due to the death of sitting BJP MP Chintaman Wanaga in January this year.
In Bhandra-Gondia, Nana Patole quit as the BJP MP and resigned from the ruling party to return to the Congress earlier this year, necessitating the by-election.
The BJP is confident of retaining the two seats while the opposition feels setbacks to the ruling party in the bypoll would boost the vigour of the 'anti-BJP camp' and lead to new alignments in state politics.
The ruling party has locked horns with the NCP for retaining the Bhandara-Gondia Lok Sabha seat while in Palghar, it is in a direct fight with the ally Shiv Sena even though the contest is multi-cornered.
As many as 18 candidates are in fray in Bhandara- Gondia and seven in Palghar.
There are total 3,49,1218 voters.
In Palghar, out of the 2,097 polling booths, 14 are listed as critical, while in Bhandara-Gondia, out of 2,149 polling booths, 71 are situated in Naxal-hit areas and 113 are listed as critical.
The electioneering in Palghar witnessed a face-off between the Shiv Sena and the BJP while the Congress and the NCP have aligned for the bypolls.
Political analysts say the NCP and the Congress have realised their folly of going separate ways in 2014 Maharashtra Assembly elections as it benefited the BJP and the Shiv Sena since both performed well.
"Both the saffron parties did well due to the 'Modi wave' at national level and the 15-year anti-incumbency against the Congress-NCP regime. Now, times are changing," they feel.
In Palghar, the main fight is between the Shiv Sena and the BJP.
However, there is a multi-cornered contest with Damodar Shindga of the Congress and Baliram Jadhav of the Bahujan Vikas Agadhi and a candidate of the CPM also in fray.
The Palghar Lok Sabha constituency, a reserved seat for Scheduled Tribe (ST), situated on the outskirts of Mumbai, was created in 2008 after delimitation of constituencies.
The voters in the constituency are spread across urban belts of Vasai, Nalasopara, Palghar and the tribal areas of Dahanu, Vikramgad and Boisar.
The BJP roped-in its central ministers like Smriti Irani and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath for campaigning.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis also camped in Palghar and addressed several rallies.
In Bhandara-Gondia, the NCP has fielded Madhukar Kukde while the BJP has nominated Hemant Patle.
Even though there are a total of 18 candidates in Bhandara-Gondia, the main contest is said to be between the BJP and the NCP.
The Congress leaders in the constituency are apparently miffed with the party's decision of giving the seat to the NCP (as part of tie-up agreement) despite Nana Patole returning to the Congress fold.
Patole had defeated NCP leader Praful Patel from the seat in 2014.
Patel had represented the seat earlier in the Lok Sabha.
Congress spokesman Ratnakar Mahajan claimed Patole was the victim of lack of inner party democracy in the BJP.
"The by-election is an occasion for voters to rethink about their support to the BJP which had promised employment generation and controlling price rise," he said.
Mahajan said the results will be a "fresh mandate" on the performance of the Modi government.
"The outcome of the bypolls will lead to new political alignments. There will be a new vigour in the anti-BJP camp if the ruling party loses both seats. The consolidation of democratic and secular forces will go one step ahead."
But if the BJP succeeds in both or one of the seats, the opposition parties will have to work harder to make people realise their disillusionment with the government, he said.
However, BJP spokesman Madhav Bhandari said the bypolls in the two constituencies were being fought on local issues and politics.
"The state's political equations don't come into picture.
The Shiv Sena is not at all in the race in Palghar.
The hype created in the media has no bearing on the ground," Bhandari said.
"Since the BJP will retain both the seats, the possibility of alignment of political forces post the results does not arise," he added.
Counting of votes will be undertaken on May 31.