New Delhi: Allies Congress and Shiv Sena, two of the three parties that form the Maharashtra government, will be contesting against each other in the Dadra & Nagar Haveli parliamentary bypoll scheduled for 30 October.
The contest comes against a backdrop of Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut meeting Congress leader Rahul Gandhi to discuss the functioning of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra, with the BJP reportedly sending feelers to its former ally for a possible reunion.
The bypoll in Dadra & Nagar Haveli, which straddles the Gujarat and Maharashtra border, has been necessitated by the alleged suicide of incumbent MP Mohan Delkar in March. He had won the seat — one of two in the Union territory (UT) of Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu — in 2019 as an Independent.
In his 15-page suicide note, the seven-term MP said he was being “harassed” by UT Administrator Praful Khoda Patel, while also naming other government officials who allegedly forced him to take the step.
The Shiv Sena has fielded Delkar’s widow Kalaben Delkar from the seat, while the Congress candidate is Mahesh Kumar Balubhai Dhodi.
‘Such clashes should be avoided’
Speaking to ThePrint, both the Shiv Sena and the Congress said such clashes should be avoided.
Shiv Sena MP and senior leader Sanjay Raut said he knew the Congress would field a candidate as he had spoken to K.C. Venugopal earlier. He further said the Congress had been contesting in Dadra & Nagar Haveli for many years, while the Shiv Sena only got into the fold with the 2019 polls.
“Even though we are contesting against each other outside Maharashtra, we should still try and avoid such clashes,” he said.
Congress Mumbai working president Charan Singh Sapra said clashes between the alliance partners should be avoided, but added that the bypoll would not come in the way of the coalition in Maharashtra.
The Congress, Sapra added, has been contesting elections in Dadra & Nagar Haveli for many years and the announcement of a candidate for the bypoll was thus natural.
Asked if the Shiv Sena would eat into their votes considering Delkar’s wife is their candidate, Sapra said the late MP always switched between parties. While his wife may get “sympathy votes”, the Congress had a much stronger vote base in the union territory, he added.
Sapra said while clashes should be avoided, there could be a possibility of the Shiv Sena and the Congress going against each other in the 2022 Goa elections.
Historically, he added, alliance partners often fight against each other in the local body polls — be it the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) versus the Congress or the BJP and the Shiv Sena earlier.
The Shiv Sena announced earlier this month that it will go it alone in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation elections next year. Similar announcements have been made by the Congress.
Since the alliance between former rivals Shiv Sena and Congress was cemented in 2019, it has been dogged by rumours of rift.
‘Want to continue husband’s fight for justice’
Delkar won all the Lok Sabha elections from Dadra & Nagar Haveli between 1989 and 2004 — thrice as an Independent (1989, 1996 and 1999), once as a Congress candidate (1991), once as a BJP nominee (1998), and once as a candidate of his own party (Bharatiya Navshakti Party). Another candidate fielded by the BJP won in 2009 and 2014 before Delkar returned for a seventh term in 2019.
According to a 2004 profile by India Today, Delkar courted such influence in his constituency that “nothing happens without his consent” in Dadra and Nagar Haveli.
“His public meetings draw crowds as big as that of Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, who seldom ventures out of Mumbai, campaigned against him in 1999 but could not stop him from winning by a comfortable margin,” it added.
He was reportedly accused of using intimidation tactics, but he denied the claims.
Kalaben Delkar, who joined the Shiv Sena Thursday, told ThePrint that it was her responsibility to “continue my husband’s fight for justice and working for the people”.
On why she chose the Shiv Sena, Kalaben said the party had supported the family a lot after her husband’s suicide.
“I will speak about Praful Patel in due time as the matter is currently sub-judice, but I will say that all of this (his suicide) happened because of Patel. He got scared and jealous seeing his (Delkar’s) power and popularity,” she added.
Patel is among those booked by Mumbai Police in its case regarding Delkar’s alleged suicide. The Maharashtra government has set up a special investigation team to look into the case.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)