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Kaante ki takkar, predicts Mahajan
Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi |
September 17, 2004 01:00 IST
Last Updated: September 17, 2004 10:44 IST
The assembly election in Maharashtra will see a kaante ki takkar (a close fight), Bharatiya Janata Party general secretary Pramod Mahajan predicted today.
Mahajan, who hails from Maharashtra and is coordinating the BJP's election campaign there, told reporters at an informal talk at his New Delhi residence that the outcome of the October 13 election would depend on three factors -- the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance's performance in Mumbai, where Muslims comprise 19 per cent of the electorate; the Bahujan Samaj Party's success in breaking into the dalit votes of the Congress; and the incumbency disadvantage for the ruling Democratic Front owing to the plight of farmers, power supply problems, and unemployment.
The BJP has been allotted 118 seats in the state while its alliance partner has taken the other 170. Both parties have given some seats out of their quota to the Shetkari Sanghatana and other smaller groups. So, effectively, the BJP is contesting 114 seats and the Sena, 166.
A decision on the Bandra constituency in Mumbai is pending. (With Muslims and Christians comprising 45 per cent of the electorate there, the BJP was apparently not too keen to put up a candidate. Former Mumbai sheriff Nana Chudasama's daughter Shaina NC, a fashion designer who joined the BJP this week, may get the seat.)
This time the BJP is putting up a sizeable number of candidates who have studied abroad and are business-savvy. Many of them are even not saffronites in the conventional sense.
Mahajan noted that a careful study of the 2004 Lok Sabha election results shows a "new emerging factor" in Maharashtra. The Samajwadi Party, which was growing apace, mainly on the back of Muslim support, has started slipping. Even in Mumbai's Muslim-dominated areas like Umerkhadi and Nagpada, the party lost its vote share. Where earlier it had polled as many as 27,000 votes in Umarkhadi, in May 2004 it got just 1500. Likewise in Nagpada it got 3,000 votes, down from 16,000.
On the other hand, Mayawati's BSP is catching up, particularly in the eastern Vidarbha region, where discontent against the government is more widespread. The BSP is expected to prop up many last-minute deserters and rebels from the bigger parties. These rebels often have their own local networks. Combined with some dalit votes, they can cause trouble for both sides. In May 2004, in at least nine Lok Sabha constituencies (comprising some 45 assembly segments), the BSP got more votes than the victory margin of the elected candidates.
In the interiors, the BJP-Sena combine is using a populist slogan, "Karz maaf, veez mofat" (debts will be written off, power will be supplied free). Mahajan said frankly that none of the national issues like the Veer Savarkar controversy or Uma Bharti Tiranga Yatra are effective at the grassroots level, admitting, if indirectly, that Hindutva would not be an issue.
Expressing cautious optimism, he said the BJP-Sena alliance has the edge over the ruling Congress-Nationalist Congress Party combine. The BJP-Sena, he noted, had not lost ground in the rural constituencies though it was mauled in eight urban constituencies (six in Mumbai and one each in Pune and Nagpur) in the Lok Sabha election. Of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in rural Maharashtra, the BJP-Sena alliance won 24.
In the rural areas, farmer suicides have become a major issue, he said. The people are also fed up with the erratic power supply. Unemployment is a third major factor. But he emphatically ruled out the possibility of hitting on the issue of corruption or the Telgi fake stamps scandal.
Mahajan said that unlike in some other states, Maharashtra does not face the problem of acute casteism. Also, in the last two decades, the state has given a majority to one party just once. Morever, since 1995, the BJP-Sena combine has never won less than 125 of the state's 288 seats.
Mischievously, Mahajan also pointed out that this time Sharad Pawar's NCP, which is in alliance with the Congress, is likely to face a piquant situation because it has a limited number of seats to contest. In 1999, the party had put up candidates in all 288 constituencies, though it only won 58.
Similarly, this will be the first time that the Congress symbol will not be seen in as many as 125 constituencies in the state. Such situations, he remarked, can be difficult for party leaders to handle and even lead to rebels in the fray. Borrowing an idiom that became popular with former prime minister V P Singh, he said, "It's like putting paste back in a tube."
Surprisingly, Mahajan was at pains to underplay his party's chances of winning. Unlike in the Lok Sabha election, he probably did not wanted his cadre to get the wrong signals and become complacent.
Asked about the BJP-Sena alliance's chief ministerial candidate, he joked that Uddhav Thackeray might eventually "do a Sonia Gandhi". (He was referring to Congress president Sonia Gandhi standing down as the prime ministerial aspirant amid much drama after the Lok Sabha election results were declared on May 13.)
Mahajan, who had to bear the brunt of the blame when the BJP suffered a massive jolt in that election, said he had learnt his lessons. And it was pretty obvious in the manner in which he refused to oversell the party. The electronic campaign – surveys, emails and SMS – for which he was pilloried the last time round is on this time too, he revealed, but without any accompanying fuss.
Discussing the party's campaign strategy, he said national-level BJP politicians will begin their campaigns from September 29. Of them, senior leader Sushma Swaraj is most in demand and will address some 20 meetings in the state. Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will address five meetings, only in Mumbai, Nagpur, and Pune. He will conclude the campaign by addressing a meeting in Mumbai on October 10.
Former deputy prime minister L K Advani will address a dozen meetings in places like Solapur, Chandrapur, and Aurangabad. Former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Uma Bharti will spare five days for campaigning while Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi will be called in for two days. Overall, he said, the senior leaders will cover as many as 100 constituencies.
Mahajan admitted that he too had been out of touch with rural Maharashtra. For the first time in eight years he is travelling through the state and finding that beer bars have mushroomed all over. He also expressed surprise at seeing rural schoolchildren wearing uniforms.
The BJP is aware that timely rains in parts of the state have improved the position of the ruling alliance. Which is probably why Mahajan was playing it safe and predicting a neck-and-neck fight. Without saying it in as many words, he conveyed his feeling that Maharashtra may get another hung assembly, leaving him with the task of forming the next government with the help of independents and rebels.