MUMBAI: With the campaigning turning bitter between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Shiv Sena, the by elections at Palghar and Bhandara-Gondia are likely to be very tough and close contests.
Polling in both these constituencies will take place on Monday (May 28) and the counting will take place on Thursday (May 31).
The BJP had won both these seats in 2014. Nana Patole had defeated NCP leader Praful Patel. The by-election was necessitated in Bhandara-Gondia due to Patole’s resignation of after a standoff with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He was hoping to get a chance after joining the Congress. However, the NCP insisted on contesting the election. While the NCP has fielded Madhukar Kukde, the BJP has nominated Hemant Patle. Even though there are a total of 18 candidates in Bhandara-Gondia, the main contest is between the BJP and the NCP.
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. The challenge before the BJP would depend on the unity of the Congress-NCP in this constituency. It won’t be easy for the BJP to win the seat if Patel and Patole firmly back the NCP candidate, even though the candidate is generally considered weak.
If the election in Bhandara-Gondia is representative of the infighting within the Congress-NCP alliance, the Palghr by election is that of between the saffron alliance of the BJP and the Shiv Sena. Ever since the Shiv Sena decided to field son of late BJP MP Chintaman Vanga as their candidate, the fight had turned bitter. The worst of the bitterness was seen in the last two days of the campaigning with the Shiv Sena alleging BJP workers of distributing money and releasing an audio clip of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis allegedly instigating BJP workers to “go to any level” to win the election.
After a complaint was lodged by the Shiv Sena with the election Commission in this regard, Fadnavis, retorted all the allegations saying that the Shiv Sena distorted his appeal to the party workers and chose parts of the sentences to make it appear gross.
Uddhav Thackeray had sought clarification over “Saam, Daam, Dand, Bhed” advise by Fadnavis to party cadres over which Fadnavis remarked, at a press conference on Sunday, that he could explain the phrase as told in the epic Mahabharata, but “one cannot wake up who pretend to be asleep”.
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.
Though the main fight is between the Shiv Sena and the BJP, the fragmentation of votes etween Damodar Shindga of the Congress and Baliram Jadhav of the Bahujan Vikas Agadhi and a candidate of the CPM would decided the winner in Palghar.
The BJP had roped-in its central ministers like Smriti Irani and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath for campaigning. Fadnavis too camped in Palghar and addressed several rallies.
While the opposition insists that the by polls are indicative of the public mood ahead of the general elections next year, the BJP insists that they are unlikely to have any bearing on the political picture of the state or the centre.
“Since the BJP will retain both the seats, the possibility of alignment of political forces post the results does not arise,” he added.
However, analysis of the Lok Sabha and Assembly results of 2014 throws up an interesting reading. If the entire “anti-BJP opposition alliance” unites and ensures that all their vote shares get transferred to one of their winnable candidates, then they can do a repeat of BJPs defeat in recent Lok Sabha by-polls of Gorakhpur and Phulpur in Uttar Pradesh. In 2014 Lok Sabha polls the BJP and Shiv Sena were in an alliance, which later snapped for the Assembly polls. This raises prospects of split in the BJP, Sena votes polled in the Lok Sabha elections.
The total votes polled by the BJP for both the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls in 2014 in Bhandara-Gondiya constituency comes to 10,25,653. Whereas if one were to add up all the votes polled by the “anti-BJP alliance” it adds up to 11,57,464. In Palghar (ST) constituency, the total votes polled by the BJP of both the 2014 polls adds up to 8,07,090. Whereas the anti-BJP alliance combined votes comes to 12,92,738 votes. The only catch here is that there has to be a united opposition to encash the split in the BJP, Sena vote bank.