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Uddhav visits, NCP yatra, Patole as Congress chief: Ruling allies eye BJP stronghold Vidarbha

Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress are looking to gain ground in Vidarbha, the region which accounts for about 22 per cent of Maharashtra’s total assembly seats.

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Mumbai: In an attempt to consolidate their strength against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), all three parties of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) — Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress — are focusing on their individual expansion in Vidarbha, a BJP stronghold.

Shiv Sena president and Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has given special attention to Vidarbha ever since he resumed official tours and field visits late last year, after the state’s active Covid-19 caseload started declining.

Of the CM’s 11 tours out of Mumbai since December 2020, five have been to various districts in Vidarbha.

“There are a number of local body polls lined up over the next two years in Maharashtra. All parties are mobilising grassroots support for the same,” said political analyst Hemant Desai.

“Uddhav Thackeray also wants to prove a point by going to Devendra Fadnavis’s bastion and expanding there. With regards to the NCP, Vidarbha has always been one of its weakest links,” he added.

Uddhav’s visits

Of Thackeray’s five visits to Vidarbha, four were to review development work in the region. The CM visited Amravati district on 5 December to review the progress on the Mumbai-Nagpur expressway; on 8 January, he took stock of the Ghosikhurd dam project in the Bhandara district; on 26 January, Thackeray visited Nagpur district to inaugurate the Gorewada Zoo; and on 5 February, he visited the Lonar crater lake in the Buldhana district and directed officials to develop tourist facilities at the spot.

During the 26 January visit to Nagpur, Thackeray said Vidarbha was in his blood.

“My grandmother, that is Balasaheb’s mother, was from Paratwada in Amravati, so Vidarbha’s blood runs in our veins. Hence, no one should try to teach us about love for Vidarbha. We are related to Vidarbha by blood,” the CM said. He also said that he wants to dispel the notion that Vidarbha has been kept away from development, highlighting his frequent visits to the region in his speech.

A Shiv Sena functionary, who did not wish to be named, told ThePrint: “We are actively looking at gaining ground in Vidarbha and are having review meetings every fortnight. Uddhav saheb’s tours to various districts in the region have helped emphasise the Shiv Sena’s seriousness about the region.”

When the Shiv Sena and the BJP were allies, most seats in Vidarbha would go to the latter in the alliance’s seat-sharing formula due to which the Sena always remained weak in the region.

Also read: NCP got 5 times more funds, including from Mumbai BJP chief, after coming to power in 2019

Focus on Vidarbha

Not just Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress are also looking to expand their voter base in the region.

On 28 January, NCP’s state chief Jayant Patil started ‘Rashtrawadi Parivar Samvad Yatra’ from Gadchiroli district in Vidarbha to strengthen the party’s base across Maharashtra.

The first phase of the campaign covered all 11 districts of Vidarbha and three in North Maharashtra.

Meanwhile, the Congress picked Nana Patole, a Vidarbha face, as the party’s new state unit chief, mainly to regain the ground it has lost in the region to the BJP over the years.

“We barely have any presence in Vidarbha because we have mostly always fought in alliance with Congress, which would look at Vidarbha seats. We are concentrating on building booth-level committees everywhere in Vidarbha now and plan to fight the civic polls too,” said NCP leader, who did not wish to be named.

For the Congress, picking Patole as state party chief was a clear indication of its desire to gain lost ground in Vidarbha, other than getting an OBC face in the state’s top leadership.

“Vidarbha was a traditional Congress stronghold. It was the only region in Maharashtra where the Congress continued to prosper even after Emergency, but they eventually lost that voter base,” political analyst Abhay Deshpande had told ThePrint when the Congress high command picked Patole as its new Maharashtra president earlier this month. “Choosing Patole as the party president is a way to regain ground in the region.”

Desai, meanwhile, said: “The Congress has a good presence in Vidarbha and wants to edge out BJP to reclaim its stronghold. The Shiv Sena has an opportunity because the issue of statehood for Vidarbha, which it has always opposed, is now on a back burner among voters’ minds in the region.”

Vidarbha’s political math

Vidarbha has 62 assembly constituencies or about 22 per cent of Maharashtra’s total assembly seats.

Next year, 10 major municipal corporations across Maharashtra will go to polls. Three of these — Nagpur, Akola and Amravati — are from Vidarbha.

Some of the BJP’s tallest leaders from Maharashtra, such as Nitin Gadkari, Devendra Fadnavis and Sudhir Mungantiwar, come from the Vidarbha region. In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP crushed the Congress, it’s main rival in the region, to win 44 seats.

However, the party’s hold on Vidarbha has since loosened. In the 2019 assembly elections, the BJP won 29 seats in the region, while Congress improved its tally to 15 from 10 in 2014.

The NCP too improved its performance here, winning six seats as against one in 2014, while the Shiv Sena won four seats, same as in 2014.

Also read: Uddhav’s govt is ‘Mughlai’ — BJP hits out at muted Shivaji anniversary as CM defends move


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