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MVA sees internal rebellion ahead of bypolls, 2024 likely to be uphill battle

Ideological rivals-turned-political allies face rebellion in Chinchwad & Kasba Peth. Political observers say development indicative of what lies ahead for MVA before 2024 state polls.

Representative image of MVA leaders — NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, and Congress leader Balasaheb Thorat | ANI
Representative image of MVA leaders — NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, and Congress leader Balasaheb Thorat | ANI

Mumbai: The Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) — comprising former ideological rivals Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress — is battling internal rebellion in two assembly constituencies ahead of the Maharashtra bypolls scheduled to be held on 27 February. 

The latest development in Chinchwad and Kasba Peth could be a teaser to the many issues the opposition alliance may face in contesting together the next year’s assembly polls.

At Chinchwad, Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Rahul Kalate is contesting as an Independent, posing a challenge to the MVA’s official candidate, NCP’s Vitthal Kate. 

Similarly, the Congress’s internal politics has thrown up a challenge for the MVA at Kasba Peth. Congress’ Balasaheb Dabhekar has filed his nomination as an Independent against the party’s and MVA’s official candidate Ravindra Dhangekar.

The rival BJP, too, is facing challenges at Kasba Peth with the party facing the charge of going against Brahmins by overlooking the family of legislator Mukta Tilak, whose death necessitated the bypoll, for the party’s official candidate. The Tilak family belongs to the Brahmin community. 

Political observers say the bypolls are indicative of how the parties are likely to have a tough time hammering out seat sharing for the 2024 assembly polls, and how there are likely to be many seats where they may see internal rebellion like Kasba Peth and Chinchwad.

“It will be very difficult for parties such as the Congress and the Shiv Sena to reach an understanding, and while the leaderships of the NCP and the Shiv Sena have a good equation, there are many seats where the two parties have locally always been rivals,” said Hemant Desai, former journalist and political commentator. 

“The MVA’s fortunes depend on how effectively the leaderships of the parties are able to quell these local rebellions. The BJP will take advantage of this.” 

The MVA was formed in November 2019 after the assembly election that year. While the NCP has allied with the Congress for the most part since its formation in 1999, the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena was always seen as ideological and political rival of the two parties. 

When the MVA was formed, the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena had 56 seats, the NCP 54 and the Congress 44. In June 2022, Eknath Shinde, now chief minister, caused a vertical split in the Shiv Sena, drawing 40 of the party’s 56 MLAs to his faction.

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Chinchwad bypoll rebellion

Last month, the Shiv Sena (UBT) Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut said that his party wanted to contest the Chinchwad bypoll, necessitated by the death of sitting BJP MLA Laxman Jagtap, and that Uddhav Thackeray had conveyed the same to NCP leaders. The party, however, eventually decided to back NCP’s Kate as the MVA official candidate.

“I had informed the party leadership that I want to contest the bypoll, but the party still decided to back the BJP,” Shiv Sena (UBT)’s Kalate, who will take on the MVA candidate as an Independent, told ThePrint. “They (MVA) can do everything to persuade me to take my nomination back, but I won’t budge.” 

Kalate, the Shiv Sena’s official candidate in 2014, had emerged as the runner-up with 63,489 votes, as per the Election Commission (EC). Kalate had also contested in 2019 as a rebel candidate when Chinchwad was taken by the BJP during its alliance with the Shiv Sena. Kalate was again second to BJP’s Jagtap with 1,12,225 votes, polling about 40 per cent of the total votes in the constituency, the EC data show. 

NCP spokesperson Mahesh Tapase told ThePrint, “This is a constituency dominated by the NCP. So is the municipal corporation. Shiv Sena (UBT) hasn’t had any standing historically though it has increased of late. But it is still not enough for the Shiv Sena to overcome the NCP’s strength here.”

“Sena’s leadership has accepted it. Lower-level leaders may or may not agree with the party leadership. Everybody has aspirations.”

The BJP has fielded Ashwini Jagtap, widow of Laxman Jagtap.

The MVA had similar issues in the run-up to the Kolhapur North bypoll last year when local Shiv Sena leaders led by Rajesh Kshirsagar expressed keenness on contesting, while the Congress wanted to field its candidate as the official face of the grouping. 

The seat was a Shiv Sena stronghold, but the Congress had won it in the 2019 civic polls. The MVA was, however, able to stem an official rebellion and get all parties to back the Congress’s candidate, dealing a crushing defeat to the BJP. Kshirsagar last year joined the Shinde camp of the Shiv Sena.

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Kasba Peth & Congress’s internal politics

At Kasba Peth, Congress’s Balasaheb Dabhekar has filed his nomination as an Independent, posing a challenge to the party’s official candidate Ravindra Dhangekar.

“I had asked the party to nominate me as the candidate. I have been a party worker for 40 years and yet the party chose to back someone who has hopped parties. All of this is happening because of factionalism within the Congress,” Dabhekar told ThePrint.

Dhangekar has previously been with the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) as well as the undivided Shiv Sena, and has been a five-time corporator in the Pune Municipal Corporation from the two parties. He joined the Congress in 2017.

A senior Congress leader said the party’s decision to choose Dhangekar, who is known for frequently shifting political loyalties, has sparked a lot of disappointment in Pune unit. 

However, Anant Gadgil, a senior party spokesperson, said, “The political atmosphere is in the Congress’ favour. The BJP is fraught with its own problems in Kasba Peth. We will definitely win.”

(Edited by Anumeha Saxena)

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