Three sitting MPs have quit the party over the past two months, and several partymen are on their way out, many of them headed for the NCP

The Shiv Sena was once considered a fortress that tolerated no dissent. Yet this election season, it is reeling under a spate of defections. Three sitting MPs have quit the party over the past two months, and several party men are on their way out. The exits are being seen as a setback to party chief Uddhav Thackeray as he faces the first election after the death of his father, Bal Thackeray.

Most rebels have joined the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) instead of Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, whose cadre and ideology is closest to that of the Shiv Sena.

A former Sainik set to switch sides is Mohan Rawle, a five-time MP from Mumbai. “I am joining the NCP because its chief, Sharad Pawar, promotes the cause of Marathi pride. I was sidelined in the Shiv Sena,” Mr. Rawle says. He was expelled from the party last December after publicly criticising it as a “party of touts.” Another senior Shiv Sena MLA is said to be in touch with NCP leaders.

Close aide goes

Earlier this week, Shiv Sena spokesperson Rahul Narvekar joined the NCP. He was once considered a close aide of Uddhav Thackeray’s son, Aditya. Mr. Narvekar is being fielded as the NCP’s Lok Sabha candidate from the Maval constituency.

The high-profile defections began two years ago when Shiv Sena MP from Kalyan Anand Paranjape joined the NCP.

He is contesting the election.

In February, its Shirdi MP, Bhausaheb Wakchaure, joined the Congress and is the party candidate. The same month, its Parbhani MP, Ganesh Dudhgaokar, quit the party and is said to be in touch with the NCP. Another MP, Gajanan Babar, quit the party, but is still undecided where to go.

The NCP’s inroads into the Shiv Sena’s cadre have prompted Mr. Uddhav Thackeray to lash out at NCP chief Sharad Pawar. “Sharad Pawar once enjoyed great clout in Maharashtra, but now the party is a shambles. Many of its party men have quit.

They are renting candidates because they are not able to generate candidates for the Lok Sabha polls,” he told the media.

The NCP has hit back. “The Shiv Sena is crumbling and people are deserting this sinking ship. It doesn’t need any help from us. Uddhav Thackeray is unable to retain his people,” says party spokesperson Nawab Malik.

Analysts say both the Shiv Sena and the NCP face challenges this election. The Shiv Sena has to contend with a soft leader, while the NCP faces a strong anti-incumbency factor.

Yet senior journalist Kumar Ketkar expects the Shiv Sena to perform much better than it did in 2009.

“It is a fact that many NCP leaders refused to fight the polls because they feared losing. This is a free import of Shiv Sena leaders, most of whom are not heavyweights. In fact, I expect the Shiv Sena to perform much better than it did the last time because of the anti-incumbency factor,” Mr. Ketkar says.

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