The by-election to the Andheri (East) Assembly seat on November 3 is going to be a ‘Maha Sangram’ of sorts as both the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena and rival Eknath Shinde camp-BJP alliance will be pitted against each other.
The Thackeray camp is expected to field Sena MLA the late Ramesh Latke's spouse Rutuja as it heavily depends on the sympathy factor. Latke died of heart attack while on a trip to Dubai in May.
For the Shinde camp, which has been making rapid strides to claim legitimacy to carry on the legacy of Shiv Sena founder the late Bal Thackery, the Andheri (East) may not give any upmanship as the alliance seems to have already zeroed in on Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) former corporator Murji Patel.
The bypoll will be the first litmus test for Mr. Uddhav Thackeray to prove his strength ahead of the BMC elections. Mr. Thackeray is often criticised by the Eknath Shinde faction and the BJP for joining hands with the grand old Congress party and Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party for power by compromising the Hindutva principles of Bal Thackery. With eyes on the ensuing BMC elections, the BJP is working out a robust plan to wrest the control of the civic body.
“This is the first battle post-split, and both factions will try their best to prove their strength. However, as Chief Minister Shinde doesn’t have a hold over Mumbai, he is not going to field the candidate from his faction and naturally support the BJP,” political analyst Hemant Desai told The Hindu.
Though the BJP has a strong vote bank in Andheri, it is the sympathy factor that is going to help the Shiv Sena, he observed. “They [Mr. Shinde and the BJP] will put all efforts to win as it will have a massive impact on the forthcoming BMC elections. And in case if sympathy factor didn’t work and the Sena loses it, it will be a big psychological blow for them,” Mr. Desai said.
Senior members of the Thackeray camp alleged that Mr. Shinde had lost the legitimacy to claim the legacy of the Shiv Sena as he is seen losing out to the BJP on what he claims to have inherited.
“There are speculations about the Election Commission freezing the party symbol [bow and arrow]. We are very confident that the symbol will be allocated to us as Uddhav ji has the majority. People of Andheri will stand up together and vote for our Sena, the true Shiv Sena of Balasaheb Thackeray,” Member of Parliament and Thackeray camp’s spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi said.
She said Ramesh Latke was a popular leader and had a personal connection due to his good work in the constituency. “The nasty political turnout didn’t go down well with the people of Mumbai and Maharashtra and they will stand with us in the coming elections,” Ms. Chaturvedi said.
Chief Minister Shinde had splurged on newspaper advertisements on Wednesday, claiming that his faction was the real inheritor of the Hindutva and the true follower of ‘Hindu Hruday Samrat’ (emperor of Hindu hearts) Balasaheb Thackeray. The BJP is also all set to reach out to Marathi Manoos in addition to non-Marathi speaking voters on Hindutva bogey.
The Shinde group appears to be caught in the vortex as it has no commanding say in the choice of the BJP in Andheri East. This is seen as an attempt to muzzle the internal bickerings as some Shiv Sena MLAs who are with Mr. Shinde were murmuring about the candidate's choice for Andheri East.
Mr. Murji Patel lost the 2019 elections to Ramesh Latke by a margin of 16,965 votes. Mr. Patel contested as an independent as Andheri East was given to the Shiv Sena in seat-sharing by the Sena-BJP combine who fought the 2019 elections together.
Even the Congress and the NCP have announced that they will support Sena candidate Rutuja. Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee chief Nana Patole said they would not field candidate but would support the candidate of Shiv Sena as Maha Vikas Aghadi in the bypoll.
“The MVA was formed after the results of the Assembly elections to keep the communal BJP out of power for the benefit of Maharashtra. But it has misused Central agencies like the ED and CBI to topple the government by taking away Sena MLAs,” he said.
He said the BJP's efforts to break the MVA were not successful, so they broke the Shiv Sena. “In the battle against the BJP, the Congress is firmly standing with the Shiv Sena. Our cadre will work with full strength to ensure the victory of the Sena's candidate,” Mr. Patole added.