Full-page advertisements appeared across major newspapers in Maharashtra on Tuesday, citing a survey that showed Chief Minister Eknath Shinde ahead of deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis in popularity.
While the advertisement's tagline was "Modi for India, Shinde for Maharashtra", the chief minister sought to downplay it, saying both he and BJP leader Fadnavis were "in people's minds" and working together.
Shiv Sena minister Shambhuraj Desai said, "Our party has nothing to do with the advertisement. It may have been issued by a well-wisher of our party, Shinde and Fadnavis."
The advertisement did not carry the pictures of either Fadnavis or Shiv Sena founder late Bal Thackeray. Shinde, who split the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena last year and became chief minister, has always maintained that his Sena faction represents Bal Thackeray's vision and ideology.
As much as 26.1 per cent of people in Maharashtra want Eknath Shinde as chief minister while 23.2 per cent wish to see Fadnavis as the next chief minister, the advertisement claimed.
Thus, 49.3 per cent of people in Maharashtra supported the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance, it said, citing a survey conducted by Zee TV-Matrize.
Further, 30.2 per cent citizens of Maharashtra prefer the Bharatiya Janata Party while 16.2 per cent prefer the Shiv Sena (led by Eknath Shinde), which means a total of 46.4 per cent of people trust the alliance for development of the state, the advertisement said.
Reacting to the advertisement, Sanjay Raut of the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena said, “It was Balasaheb's (Bal Thackeray's) Shiv Sena earlier, but the advertisement has cleared the air. It has now become Modi-Shah's Shiv Sena. Where is the image of late Balasaheb Thackeray?”
Talking to reporters later, Chief Minister Shinde said his government was working under Modi's guidance, and the Centre had allocated huge funds for infrastructure works in Mumbai and elsewhere in the state.
"Infrastructure projects like (Mumbai) Metro which had come to a halt during the Maha Vikas Aghadi government have started again. Progress is in full swing across the state. So people have showered love and blessings on us," he said.
"I and the Deputy CM have been given positive ratings. The two of us are leading the state and taking it forward. I and the Deputy CM are carrying out overall development taking the cabinet along. We are in people's minds and that is important, Shinde added.
He also took a swipe at his predecessor Uddhav Thackeray, saying he and Fadnavis go out in the field and do not operate from home. Thackeray, as chief minister, had faced the opposition's barbs for working mostly from home during the coronavirus pandemic.
Notably, Fadnavis on Tuesday cancelled his visit to Kolhapur district where Chief Minister Shinde attended a scheduled programme.
School education Minister Deepak Kesarkar, who is from the Shinde-led Shiv Sena and also guardian minister of Kolhapur, said Fadnavis was suffering from an ear-related problem and was advised by doctors not to travel.
“There is nothing political about Fadnavis cancelling his Kolhapur tour,” he added.
State BJP president Chandrashekhar Bawankule too sought to downplay the advertisement.
“Election results decide which party or leader is more acceptable to voters. Shinde was popular earlier as a cabinet minister, and now his acceptance has increased as chief minister. People have lots of expectations from Fadnavis, Shinde and Modi,” he said.
People of Maharashtra had given preference to Fadnavis twice, he said, adding that there is no comparison about which is a bigger or smaller party.
State Congress spokesperson Atul Londhe, on the other hand, said the survey cited in the advertisement was a fake one.
"The Maha Vikas Aghadi will win more than 42 Lok Sabha seats and 200 Assembly seats. A new story would be written about Shinde as 'once upon a time, there was Shinde'," he said.
Maharashtra has 48 Lok Sabha seats and 288 Assembly constituencies.
Bharat Gogawale, chief whip of the Shinde-led Sena, said, "We never 'manage' anyone to get a favourable survey. He (Shinde) is accessible to people and visits all parts of the state. We have not asked any media house to conduct a survey for us."
NCP spokesperson Mahesh Tapase claimed that Shinde was trying to cut his deputy, Fadnavis, to size.
Shinde was upset over local BJP leaders claiming the Kalyan Lok Sabha seat, currently represented by his son Shrikant Shinde, for the BJP in the next general elections, Tapase said.
He also said that it was good that finally Shinde realised that there could not be a permanent symbiotic relationship with the BJP which always "cannibalises" its ally.
The BJP will pressurize all Shinde-faction candidates to contest with the lotus symbol or face political isolation, Tapase claimed.
Minister Kesarkar claimed that the Opposition was jealous.
“We don't have any differences. There is no competition to take credit and it is very evident who is trying to create a split. Both CM and deputy CM are working like brothers,” Kesarkar said.
BJP leader Pravin Darekar said it was unfortunate that the advertisement tried to lower Fadnavis's stature.
“We are not pained by the advertisement that underscores CM Shinde's popularity, but the attempt to portray Fadnavis as having a lower stature is not right. Such moves are not good for any alliance," he said.
“Anyone can conduct a survey, but when a political party uses it in its advertisements, then it validates the claims made in such surveys. Such acts spoil the alliance,” said the BJP leader who is known to be close to Fadnavis.
"It was never decided that Eknath Shinde would be the chief minister. Equations changed, hence Shinde became chief minister," Darekar said.