Andheri East bypoll | Uddhav Thackeray faction’s Rutuja coasts to expected victory, NOTA bags second spot

Uddhav camp accuses BJP of ‘influencing’ voters to go for NOTA, which garnered the second highest vote share

November 06, 2022 09:13 pm | Updated November 07, 2022 01:14 pm IST - Pune

Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) candidate Rutuja Latke, winner from Andheri East seat during the Maharashtra Assembly by-elections, with party leaders Uddhav Thackeray and Aaditya Thackeray at Matoshree residence in Mumbai, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022.

Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) candidate Rutuja Latke, winner from Andheri East seat during the Maharashtra Assembly by-elections, with party leaders Uddhav Thackeray and Aaditya Thackeray at Matoshree residence in Mumbai, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022. | Photo Credit: PTI

In a foregone conclusion, Rutuja Latke, the nominee of the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) and the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance, coasted to an expected victory in the Andheri East Assembly byelection, whose results were declared Sunday.

The contest, necessitated after the death of Sena MLA Ramesh Latke in May this year, had witnessed a high-voltage build-up with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) first announcing their candidate Murji Patel against Ms. Latke, only to later withdraw him from the poll fray as a gesture of ‘magnanimity’.

While Ms. Latke polled 66,530 votes (EVM plus postal ballots), the second-highest votes — a whopping 12,776 votes — were registered under the ‘none of the above’ (NOTA) category, causing the Uddhav faction to accuse the BJP of a double-faced campaign against Ms. Latke, wherein they pulled back their candidate on one hand while actively influencing voters to select the NOTA option in a bid to undercut the MVA nominee.

Speaking after the results, Mr. Uddhav Thackeray said “there was no secret” behind the high votes polled under the NOTA category, quipping that had the BJP contested, they would have garnered the same number of votes.

“This was the first election after the ‘betrayal’ [of Eknath Shinde and other Sena leaders] and following the ECI’s freezing of the Shiv Sena’s party name and its ‘bow and arrow’ symbol…After the results, I am not worried about future electoral fights,” said the former Chief Minister.

A sombre Ms. Latke said the victory belonged to the memory of her late husband.

“The voters have returned the goodwill…I am thankful to all the MVA constituents [NCP and Congress] and the workers who have striven tirelessly for my win,” she said.

Uddhav camp loyalist and former Minister Anil Parab, who was in-charge of the poll campaign, expressed confidence in the Thackeray faction’s victory in the crucial Mumbai civic body (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) election as well. “The Andheri election has proved what the MVA can do when it contests together,” he said.

Accusing the BJP of “bad faith,” Mr. Parab alleged that the latter had actively campaigned against Ms. Latke by “bribing voters” to click on the ‘NOTA’ alternative despite having withdrawn their candidate from the fray.

“These [NOTA] votes have been obtained by illicit means as no party can influence voters to select options… We had complained to the police of the BJP’s activities. However, neither they nor the Election Commission took any action. The results only prove that the people of Mumbai are firmly behind Uddhav Thackeray,” Mr. Parab said.

Responding to the Thackeray camp’s accusations, the BJP hit back with claims of their own, with its Mumbai city president Ashish Shelar remarking that Ms. Latke’s win was only possible because of the BJP’s ‘help’.

“Had the BJP fielded its candidate and contrasted the poll, then Ms. Latke’s defeat was certain,” said Mr. Shelar in a tweet, adding that the voting had been low despite the combined strength of the Congress, the NCP and the Left parties.

Slamming the Thackeray faction, BJP MLA Ram Kadam said: “Our party had shown great magnanimity in withdrawing our candidate. Yet, they [Uddhav camp] keep whining. Your [Mr. Thackeray’s] MLAs are deserting you and you pin the blame on NOTA? Your own brother [Jaidev Thackeray, who supports the Shinde faction] has left you and you expect voters to remain with you? It is time to accept some responsibility,” said Mr. Kadam, in a scathing rebuke to Mr. Thackeray.

Last month, just before the last day of withdrawing nominations, a number of parties and leaders including Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray and NCP chief Sharad Pawar had urged the BJP to withdraw its candidate from the contest and Ms. Latke to be elected unopposed as it was “in keeping with Maharashtra’s political culture”.

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