The party faces a tough fight from the Congress-NCP in Bhandara-Gondia in Vidarbha, but is expected to have a smoother path to victory in Palghar.

Mumbai: Jolted by its loss in the Lok Sabha and assembly bypolls in Rajasthan last month, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Maharashtra has started preparing for two Parliamentary by-elections even though the schedule for holding them is not known yet.

One seat up for grabs is Bhandara-Gondia in Vidarbha, which was vacated when sitting MP Nana Patole quit the BJP and returned to the Congress over issues such as the agrarian distress. The other is Palghar, north of Mumbai, which was vacated by the death of BJP MP Chintaman Vanaga on 30 January. The dates for these bypolls are yet to be announced.

Campaign in full swing

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis visited Bhandara Sunday to mark the 150th year celebrations of the local municipal council, and talked about the achievements of his state government.

Fadnavis’s visit assumes importance because the Bhandara-Gondia seat is set for a fierce battle. The Congress and Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party have revived their old alliance, while the influence of Patole and NCP’s former Union minister Praful Patel could be significant. The BJP currently holds six of the seven assembly seats that make up the Lok Sabha seat, while the Congress holds the other.

Addressing a public gathering, Fadnavis highlighted how his government had been working for farmers, and how schemes such as the farm loan waiver, the mudra yojana to aid start-ups and the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana for affordable housing have helped people. He also promised quick approvals for projects related to underground drainage systems, solid waste management, and water supply for Bhandara city.

Ramchandra Avasare, BJP legislator for the Bhandara assembly constituency, said: “The CM’s address sent a clear message about everything that the government has done so far, and how it has focused more attention on small cities and towns over the past three years than what was done over 50 years. It galvanised the BJP’s local cadre too.”

Consolidation on the ground

BJP leaders have started strengthening their 25-member booth-level teams, and are also preparing for a round of ‘samadhan shibhirs’, state government-initiated camps to connect with beneficiaries of its various schemes and ascertain satisfaction levels.

The camps are likely to start from 15 February in the Bhandara-Gondia constituency and will be held for all assembly seats under it.

Rajesh Kishwar, BJP legislator for the Sakoli constituency in Bhandara, said: “The CM also announced the government’s intentions to provide for automatic conversion of ‘bhoomidari’ (Class 2 lands) to their rightful owners without even having to put in an application.This is a major problem in the Bhandara-Gondia constituency and will give relief to more than 1.5 lakh farmers. In the ‘samadhan shibhirs’, we plan to give farmers copies of their ‘7/12 extracts’ (as the land registry extracts are locally known) that reflect the change.”

The CM is also likely to attend some of these camps, he added.

The situation in Palghar

The Palghar bypoll is likely to be easier for the BJP, which currently holds two of the six assembly seats in the constituency, but has a significant hold over the Zila Parishad. Three of the other assembly seats are held by its ally Bahujan Vikas Aghadi, while one belongs to the Shiv Sena.

“Neither the Congress nor NCP have any base here to work on. Meanwhile, we are focusing on following the party’s new regime of ‘One booth, 55 youth’, and working on expanding our booth-level cadre,” said Paskal Dhanare, BJP legislator from the Dahanu assembly constituency.

Winds of change?

The BJP’s big defeats in the Ajmer and Alwar Lok Sabha seats and the Mandalgarh assembly seat in Rajasthan have got Congress leaders as well as political analysts signalling that this as an emphatic anti-incumbency vote, reflecting rural distress.

Sachin Sawant, a Congress spokesperson, said Maharashtra would witness a repeat.

“People are looking for opportunities to exhibit their disappointment and unhappiness with the current government. Sympathy waves do not work anymore. It is clear from what happened in Gurdaspur (Punjab) last year (the Congress won), though the late MP was someone as popular as Vinod Khanna, so we definitely have a good chance in Palghar,” he said.

“In Bhandara-Gondia too, we are working out an alliance with NCP. The BJP too knows the strength of our combined power.”

Political analyst Surendra Jondhale said the going may not be easy for BJP.

“There is a strong possibility of there being a repeat of a Rajasthan-like scenario, though the politics in north India are quite different from the realities in Maharashtra. The BJP will have a smoother sailing in Palghar, helped by a sympathy wave after the death of the sitting MP, a popular and non-controversial leader,” he said.

Bhandara-Gondia, said Jondhale, was likely to be the real test. “The BJP has a strong influence in Vidarbha, but post Budget, there haven’t been very favourable reactions from rural Maharashtra and the Congress could gain,” he said.

A lot would depend on how the Congress-NCP alliance shapes up, and which party actually puts up the candidate. “Nana Patole will be an influential factor in Bhandara-Gondia, and if it is a Congress candidate contesting the poll, it will be a litmus test for his popularity,” Jondhale added.

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