Amid uncertainty on the choice of candidates for the upcoming Chinchwad and Kasba Peth by-elections, both the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) troika (of the Nationalist Congress Party, the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena faction, and the Congress) are gearing up for a keenly-fought contest.
The Election Commission of India (ECI) on January 25 revised the date of the by-polls -- initially slated for February 27 -- to February 26 after taking into consideration the Class 12 and degree examinations.
‘Post-MLA death’ by-polls
The Chinchwad and Kasba Peth by-elections (both in Pune district) were necessitated after the recent deaths of sitting BJP MLAs – Laxman Jagtap and Mukta Tilak – in less than a fortnight.
While Jagtap was an influential three-time MLA from Chinchwad, Tilak – a scion of ‘Lokmanya’ Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s family -- was the former Mayor of Pune city.
Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, allied to the ruling BJP, has appealed to all parties to let the candidates (that are to be fielded by the BJP) in both seats be elected unopposed in keeping with the political custom in Maharashtra.
BJP failed to abide by tradition in the past: Raut
Taking a jibe at both Mr. Shinde and the BJP, Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Sanjay Raut said that while there is indeed a political tradition in Maharashtra of letting the kin of a deceased lawmaker be elected unopposed, this tradition had not always been preserved by the BJP in the past.
“This tradition was nowhere in evidence during the Nanded and Pandharpur Assembly by-polls [both held in 2021] when the BJP had fielded their candidates despite the Congress and the NCP nominating kin of the deceased MLAs,” said Mr. Raut, a Rajya Sabha MP and a Thackeray camp loyalist.
He said that while the BJP had ultimately withdrawn their candidate from the fray of the Andheri Assembly bypoll held in November last year, they had done so only after they realized they were not going to win it.
Shiv Sena eyeing Chinchwad seat
Mr. Raut said that while the MVA coalition was intent on contesting both by-elections, the Sena (UBT) was keen on contesting the Chinchwad seat.
“Even the constituents of Chinchwad Assembly segment feel that way [that the Thackeray Sena ought to contest]. Yesterday we had a meeting with NCP leaders Ajit Pawar and Jayant Patil at Matoshree [the Thackeray residence]. During the meeting, we conveyed our interest to the NCP leaders,” Mr. Raut said.
The Sena (UBT’s) demand regarding the Chinchwad seat may cause friction between the MVA allies, given that Chinchwad has been known as a former bastion of Ajit Pawar.
In fact, until his defection to the BJP in 2014, Jagtap had been an NCP man and a close aide of Mr. Pawar. His defection saw an exodus of local NCP leaders to the BJP, which ultimately led the BJP, for the first time, to wrest the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation from the NCP’s hands in the 2017 Maharashtra civic polls besides the Chinchwad Assembly seat in the 2019 Assembly election.
Now, with Mr. Pawar eager to regain the Chinchwad seat and re-establish the NCP’s influence in that area, Mr. Raut’s statement could well spark fresh tension within the MVA.
BJP refutes claims
Meanwhile, BJP Minister and Kothrud MLA Chandrakant Patil dismissed Mr. Raut’s statements about his party not adhering to “political tradition” in the State.
“He [Mr. Raut] seems to have forgotten that the BJP withdrew its candidate after the demise of Congress’ Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Satav [who had died in 2021 from post-Covid-19 complications]. This, despite the Congress not fielding Mr. Satav’s kin, but nominating Rajani Patil. Yet, the BJP did not field a candidate,” said Mr. Patil.
While Mr. Patil hoped that both elections would be held unopposed, the BJP was fully prepared for a fight and was confident of winning both seats. He further said that they would approach all parties (including the opposition MVA) to help their candidates win unopposed.
However, the BJP is undecided on whether to field kin of the deceased MLAs, who are considered to be political neophytes or to pick experienced hands among a pool of eager aspirants.