Election campaigning has gathered momentum in Maharashtra for some of the most prestigious municipal corporations and zilla parishads in the state. The most-watched among them will of course be the polls to the country’s richest municipal corporation of Mumbai. But the picture before election day isn’t all pretty for any of the political parties. There is seething discontent in the BJP camp for giving tickets to turncoats, overlooking the old guard of the party who have spent years in the organisation. The case is not unique to BJP. The Shiv Sena had to expel its rebel members after they filled nomination forms as independent candidates for the polls. The ugly infighting in Congress has compelled the central leadership to send Bhupinder Singh Hooda to Mumbai to quell discontent. The NCP has also been seeing its share of loyalists trickle away from the party cadre.
“Uddhavji has been meeting every dissident personally. He has been trying to explain the situation to them. Meetings have been going on for hours at Matoshree. No disgruntled leader has gone back without meeting him,” a senior Sena leader told The Sunday Guardian. “It feels sad to meet them. There is no denial that even they have worked hard for the party. But when it comes to elections, when it comes to giving a ticket, you have to make choices. Saaheb has been talking to them with folded hands, trying to explain this to them. Beyond that, what can he do?” asked a senior party member who is known to accompany Uddhav Thackeray during all important meetings.
The Sena has now expelled many of its senior cadre after they raised the flag of rebellion. Prominent among them are old hands like Mahesh Sawant, Sudhir More, Manju Kumre, Mohan Lokegaonkar.
In fact, in Sena’s stronghold of Dadar-Prabhadevi, the party is likely to face the heat of dissident ex-Shiv Sainiks. The party’s vote bank faces the threat of being polarised in one of its most prestigious seats.
The party has given ticket to Samadhan Sarvankar in this ward. Samadhan Sarvankar is the son of long time party loyalist Sada Sarvankar. This decision of Uddhav Thackeray has caused seething discontent among the local Sena cadre.
To make matters worse, rival Maharashtra Navnirman Sena has fielded Santosh Dhuri in the same ward. The aggressive Dhuri had led a scathing campaign against potholes on the roads of Dadar, making him a popular face in the area.
The Shiv Sainiks are known to be a vociferous lot. So, the Shiv Sena president was even wary of declaring the formal list of party’s official candidates. The shakha pramukhs were given the task of personally handing over the nomination forms to the chosen candidates just a day before the last day of filing nominations. But the plan did not succeed. The list was leaked on social media within a few hours, leading to angry backlash from the Shiv Sainiks. In areas like Wadala, the discontent and anger among the Shiv Sainiks was so high, that they closed down the Sena local office (also known as shakha), and resorted to sloganeering.
In a counter-move, some senior party leaders also tried to hunt down the dissidents to placate their move of filing nominations as independent candidates. After party loyalists failed after travelling for kilometres into coastal Maharashtra to track rebel Mahesh Sawant, Uddhav Thackeray finally expelled him from the party late on Friday.
In the BJP, the scene is not very different. The party has issued tickets to turncoats who have jumped over from parties like NCP. BJP wants assured electoral victory. “We believe that these turncoats have worked on their own vote banks for years. And when they join us, they come here along with the guarantee of those vote banks,” a party functionary associated with the war room functioning of BJP, told The Sunday Guardian. When asked about the alleged criminal background of some who have joined BJP recently, the leader said that these turncoats will be a converted lot after entering BJP.
“It is like getting a daughter-in-law in your house. From whichever background she comes, you teach her sanskars and parampara of your house. She has to learn to behave accordingly,” the leader said, adding that the disgruntled won’t leave the party. “They are like family. We know they are unhappy. But they will not leave the party and join any opposing parties.”
In Nagpur, the place of RSS headquarters, the BJP had to expel almost 46 rebelling party members after they refused to toe the party line. They filed nomination as independent candidates when the party failed to give them tickets.
The infighting between veteran Congress leader Gurudas Kamat and Mumbai party president Sanjay Nirpuam grew so ugly in Mumbai, that the central Congress leadership was forced to fly in ex-Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. Hooda tried to mediate between the two leaders, even as their supporters almost came to fisticuffs during a meeting. The infighting is about the choice of local leaders for issuing nominations. While the Kamat led group had preference for a set of candidates, Sanjay Nirupam completely overlooked them. So, the party had to come to an understanding whereby a first list of candidates consisted of names that were unanimously chosen. The candidature to wards where there were disputes, were mediated over by Hooda.
Till date, the campaigning of the Congress party has been an extremely low key affair. All prominent Congress leaders like Ashok Chavan, Sushilkumar Shinde have chosen to hold rallies in Marathwada and other parts of Maharashtra.
Unlike the BJP and the Shiv Sena, which have its star campaigners in place, the Congress campaigning has been going on without any “star-power” till now.
Since the NCP was always the junior partner in alliance with the Congress in Mumbai, it barely has a well developed line of local leadership. Some of the prominent local names have already left the party and joined other parties in the hope of greener pastures. “We admit that we barely have a strong party presence in Mumbai. That is because we barely concentrated on strengthening our organisation here,” Supriya Sule, NCPMP and daughter of Sharad Pawar, said.