Maharashtra shaken, stirred as battle of ballots results in mass exodus of leaders

With the announcement of polling dates in the country, the battle for ballots in the Lok Sabha polls seems to have already begun in earnest as the various political parties are leaving no stone unturned to expose the misdeeds of their rivals in their bid to ensure victory for themselves in coming to power in the world’s biggest democracy. The present scenario in Maharashtra is highlighting a scramble for seats through politicians quitting their parties for newer partners, seeking convenient candidates or even comfortable constituencies in the State.

The Shiv Sena party is one such party in Maharashtra whose cup of woes seems to be overflowing even as it faces a sudden exodus of its party leaders with the recent departure of yet another member – Youth leader Rahul Narvekar – who quit and joined the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) led by Sharad Pawar. Monday witnessed Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar happily welcoming Narvekar, who was a familiar sight highlighting the Shiv Sena’s growing youth on mainstream television, into the NCP fold at the party headquarters in South Mumbai.

Narvekar, who was close to both Shiv Sena leaders Uddhav and his son -- Sena Youth Wing president Aditya Thackeray, was reported to have taken this step after being denied a seat for the council elections. He is now expected to contest against the Shiv Sena candidate from Maval constituency in Pune in the Lok Sabha elections.

Earlier, Maval constituency also witnessed its sitting Shiv Sena MP Gajanand Babar quitting the party after being denied a ticket. The exodus from the Shiv Sena has also seen other leaders quitting to join the NCP and Congress. Sitting Shiv Sena MP from the pilgrimage city of Shirdi, Bhausaheb Wakchaure left the Sena to join the Congress. Parbhani constituency’s sitting Shiv Sena MP Ganesh Dudhgavkar quit the Sena to join the NCP.

The flight of the Shiv Sena leaders comes at a time when the party is facing problems on its various fronts including the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), whose candidates are expected to eat into the Marathi votes in Maharashtra and benefit the rival parties like Congress and NCP during the Lok Sabha elections.

Another problem that has jarred the Sena nerves is the meetings between its close ally – the BJP – and rivals like the MNS chief Raj Thackeray, who was very close to the Shiv Sena supremo  late Bal Thackeray. While the BJP has managed to underplay these chats with the Sena’s rival, the MNS chose not to reveal its cards in its decision whether to field candidates against its temporary allies.

The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) did not win any seat in the previous Lok Sabha elections but succeeded in splitting the Marathi votes by huge margins that would have otherwise assured a comfortable win for both the Shiv Sena and the BJP. By the time the present election dates were announced, the MNS chief’s ‘Will he-Wont He’ posture had several political parties biting their nails in frustration as he met with their leaders without revealing his party’s electoral stance.

Earlier, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar had recently set the cat among the pigeons when he questioned the role of the BJP Prime Minister candidate Narendra Modi in the 2002 riots which he termed as ‘mass murder.’  Pawar -- while criticizing Modi’s development agenda for the country by expressing curiosity as to whether his Gujarat development model had ushered in all-round development for the poor – had also lashed out at him for ignoring ‘certain sections of society.’

Now, even as it welcomes rival party leaders into its fold, NCP is attempting to leave no stone unturned in its efforts to bag the maximum number of seats. NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik recently announced a new list of spokespersons in Mumbai, while the party’s Maharashtra President Bhaskarrao Jadhav is on a whistle-stop election tour from of seven cities including Nagpur, Pune, Nasik, Amravati, Buldana, Jalgaon and Beed in the state.

The Congress’ Rahul Gandhi earlier set the ball rolling with his impromptu visit to the Koli fisherfolk village in Versova area of suburban North-west Andheri, where he mingled with them by even donning the traditional ‘Koli’ topi and listening patiently to them.

The Kolis, who  are traditional fisherfolk and original inhabitants of Mumbai from ages, pleaded their needs such as a separate national ministry for fishing (the funds allocated by the Agriculture Ministry—Rs. 317 Crores out of Rs. 3887 crores in 2012-13—were insufficient), diesel price subsidies, the community being allowed ownership of the land they’ve lived and worked on for over a century (currently owned by the State), and also facilities enjoyed by farmers such as loans.
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