For the last one month, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been saying it is confident of victory in this Muslim-dominated town in the coming Assembly polls.

Asked whether the BJP would win Miraj, Anilbhau Kulkarni, a former BJP worker and corporator, says, “101 per cent. No matter how many Muslims come together, the BJP will certainly win.”

On the face of it, Mr. Kulkarni’s claim sounds absurd. The BJP alliance hardly has a presence in Sangli district and neighbouring Kolhapur. Traditionally, Sangli has remained with the Congress, nurtured by the former Chief Minister, Vasantdada Patil.

In this year’s Lok Sabha polls, the seat went to his grandson Pratik Patil. Kolhapur too has a rich secular legacy left behind by social reformer Shahu Maharaj. So what’s with Anilbhau’s confidence?

For one, the BJP has moved its only 2004 Sangli winner Suresh Khade, who won a handsome 46 per cent of the votes, from Jat to Miraj. For another, Miraj witnessed a communal riot less than a month back.

Sivaji poster issue

“The Congress’ votebank, the Marathas,” says Mr. Kulkarni, “are asking why the government couldn’t let them put up a poster of Shivaji. On the one hand the Marathas and on the other the Muslims, are its vote bank.”

In Kolhapur’s Ichalkaranji constituency, the other town to be affected by the riot, the BJP has put up a candidate too. Here, however, their chances are slim, Mr. Kulkarni admits. “This is a constituency influenced by the communists. Things like Hindutva don’t appeal to them.”

Supported Independents

The BJP alliance’s standing in Sangli and Kolhapur can be gauged from the 2004 Assembly polls. Not only did the alliance win just two out of 21 seats, but it also chose not to contest in five. The parties were so sure of not winning that they found it wiser to tacitly support Independents, who could beat candidates of the Congress-NCP alliance, than to put up candidates of their own. This was repeated in this year’s Lok Sabha polls in Sangli. In Kolhapur, where the Shiv Sena did put up candidates, the alliance suffered losses.

Against such a backdrop, the BJP alliance is now banking on the riots to galvanise voters and swing at least a few seats in its favour. A resident of Jaysingpur, a town on the road to Miraj, feels the alliance’s agenda in Sangli and Kolhapur is to gain as much mileage out of the riots as they can.

CDs distributed

“Hindu groups” made CDs of video clips showing Hindus being attacked by Muslims during the riots and distributed them in towns and villages in Karnataka and Gujarat apart from Maharashtra. He pegs the number of such CDs distributed at over 10 lakh.

However, the sitting Congress MLA from Miraj Hafijabhai Dhatture does not think the riots will benefit the BJP. “Emotional sways are momentary,” he says. “People are aware.”

Political observers echo his opinion. Vasant Bhosale, the editor of a Marathi daily, Sakaal, in Kolhapur, says that he expects the BJP alliance to win only about four to five seats in Sangli, Kolhapur and Satara districts put together. In these three, the alliance’s tally was four in 2004.

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