Splitting of NCP and Shiv Sena, clan prestige loom large ahead of Phase 3 Lok Sabha polls in Maharashtra

The prestige of Maharashtra’s most influential political clans — the Pawars (Baramati), the Ranes (Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg), the Shindes (Solapur), the Tatkares (Raigad) — hang in the balance in a string of high profile contests

Updated - May 01, 2024 12:56 am IST

Published - April 30, 2024 08:47 pm IST - Pune

Union Minister Piyush Goyal, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and other BJP leaders after Mr. Goyal filed his nomination from the Mumbai North constituency in Mumbai on April 30, 2024.

Union Minister Piyush Goyal, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and other BJP leaders after Mr. Goyal filed his nomination from the Mumbai North constituency in Mumbai on April 30, 2024. | Photo Credit: ANI

The seismic political shifts to roil Maharashtra’s politics in the form of vertical splits within the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Shiv Sena, coupled with clan rivalry and internecine conflicts within the ruling and Opposition alliances loom large over the crucial third phase of the Lok Sabha election in the State.

Like a John le Carré Cold War thriller, the principals on these 11 Lok Sabha seats (including those in the prosperous ‘sugar belt’ districts), which go to polls on May 7, have switched sides with bewildering rapidity, rendering the contest in this phase utterly unpredictable owing to the personality-centric politics that have long prevailed here.

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Amid a maze of byzantine intrigue, the prestige of Maharashtra’s most influential political clans — the Pawars (Baramati), the Ranes (Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg), the Shindes (Solapur), the Tatkares (Raigad) — hang in the balance in a string of high profile contests.

The ruling ‘Mahayuti’ alliance (the BJP along with Chief Minister Eknath Shinde’s Shiv Sena and Ajit Pawar’s NCP faction) is straining every sinew to obliterate the influence of the Opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition in these seats — the Sharad Pawar-led NCP (SP) in Baramati, Madha, Satara; the Uddhav Thackeray-led Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray or BT) in Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg, Raigad, Dharashiv; and the Congress in Latur, Solapur, Kolhapur and Sangli.

The Baramati Lok Sabha fight is microcosmic of the third phase, where one of the keenest electoral showdowns in the country has political rookie Sunetra Pawar (the Mahayuti’s candidate) squaring-off against her sister-in-law Supriya Sule, seeking re-election for the fourth time.

After Ajit Pawar’s adhesion to the ruling alliance in 2023, the BJP finally sees a chance in storming the hitherto impregnable bastion of the Pawar clan, long considered the saffron party’s holy grail in its mission to win 45 of the State’s 48 Lok Sabha seats.

Both Ajit Pawar (with strong support from the BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis and Mr. Shinde) and his uncle Mr. Sharad Pawar have indulged in frantic canvassing for their respective candidates, with Mr. Ajit Pawar holding out the lure of Central funds flowing directly to Baramati in the future while the 83-year-old Mr. Pawar senior uses his emotional pull to combat his rebellious nephew.

Though in his twilight years, Mr. Sharad Pawar, with his deft manoeuvring, has made things tough for the BJP-Mahayuti in Madha (in Solapur) by weaning away the politically influential Mohite-Patil clan from the BJP over to his side and fielding Dhairyasheel Mohite-Patil as the MVA’s candidate.

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Mr. Mohite-Patil takes on the BJP’s sitting Madha MP Ranjitsinh Naik-Nimbalkar.

In the Konkan, things aren’t exactly balmy for the BJP and the Shinde Sena as Union Minister Narayan Rane, fielded from the key Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg seat, risks political oblivion if he loses the contest against the Sena (UBT) candidate, incumbent MP Vinayak Raut. The seat was a fierce bone of contention between the BJP and its alliance partner, the Shinde Sena.

In Raigad, Mr. Ajit Pawar’s lieutenant and sitting MP, the NCP’s Sunil Tatkare, faces a tough fight as he squares off with his old rival, former Union Minister and Sena (UBT) leader Anant Geete, whom he had beaten in the 2019 General Election by a thin margin.

In the sugar heartland of Satara and Kolhapur, the Mahayuti and the MVA have fielded direct descendants of the legendary Maratha warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji.

Known more for his antics than any serious development work, Udayanraje Bhosale (the 13th direct descendant of Shivaji) is the BJP’s choice for Satara while Shahu Chhatrapati (Shivaji’s 12th direct descendant) is the MVA’s choice for Kolhapur.

The selection makes strategic sense given the deep reverence of the electorate towards the Maratha royals. They have also been propped up with an eye to cashing on the Maratha agitation, which was strongly backed by both Mr. Bhosale and Mr. Shahu Chhatrapati, and both are respected by quota activist Manoj Jarange-Patil.

Hatkanangale, the other Lok Sabha seat in Kolhapur, sees incumbent MP Dhairyashee Mane of the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena (Mahayuti) take on Satyajeet Patil of the Sena (UBT)-MVA.

However, the real contest here is between Mr. Mane and Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana chief Raju Shetti, the ‘third force’ in the fray and a former two-term MP. Contesting independently, Mr. Shetti is attempting to reclaim lost ground by taking on the rich sugar barons by focusing on farmers’ woes, poor agricultural produce, and water issues.

In the doddering Congress bastion of Solapur, the MVA’s Praniti Shinde, daughter of veteran Congressman Sushilkumar Shinde, faces the BJP’s Ram Satpute. Yet this time, Ms. Shinde, bolstered by Mr. Thackeray’s Sena (UBT), is said to be in a strong position.

The BJP has tailored its campaign to the peculiarities of every district in this phase — the welfare of Army families in Satara, the Centre’s request for Shivaji’s forts to be declared as UNESCO heritage sites — while claiming to usher in development projects for local agrarian needs.

Yet, despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s carpet bombing of western Maharashtra, harping on the scrapping of Article 370 and raising the bogey of the Congress awarding OBC reservation to Muslims, this progressive region will see a settling of scores on May 7 as many have not taken kindly to the splits engineered by the saffron party within the Shiv Sena and the NCP.

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