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Win or lose, Opposition is weaker — Why BJP has been fielding extra candidates in RS, MLC polls

In Maharashtra, BJP has numbers to get only four of its five MLC candidates elected. For its 5th contender to win, it’ll need support of almost all Independents & regional parties.

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Mumbai: As polling for 10 vacant seats in the 288-member Maharashtra Legislative Council gets underway Monday, the question that is creating a buzz in political circles is — will opposition leader Devendra Fadnavis “drop another bomb”, as state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Chandrakant Patil has predicted?

The BJP has fielded five candidates, though it has the numbers to get only four elected. Meanwhile the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress of the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) in the state, have fielded two each.

A candidate needs 26 or 27 votes — depending on the number of MLAs who will cast their votes — to clinch a win.

With 106 MLAs, the BJP has barely enough to ensure the victory of four of its candidates. For its fifth contender to win, former chief minister Fadnavis — the BJP’s chief strategist — will need to gather the support of almost the entire contingent of 29 MLAs who are either Independents or belong to smaller parties.

In the 10 June Rajya Sabha polls, the BJP had managed to get 123 MLAs (including its own, Independents and those belonging to regional parties) to vote for its candidates. Even if all these MLAs vote for BJP candidates in the Maharashtra MLC elections, the party’s fifth contender may still be short of about a dozen votes.

The Shiv Sena and NCP can, by and large, get both their candidates elected on their strengths. The Congress’ second candidate, its Mumbai unit president Bhai Jagtap, on the other hand, needs the votes of about 10 MLAs outside of his party to win.

So is the BJP overreaching this election? In the Rajya Sabha polls too, the party had fielded or backed extra candidates in all four states that went to polls — Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Haryana and Karnataka. It succeeded in all but Rajasthan.

BJP sources in Maharashtra and Delhi say the party’s gameplan is not just limited to snatching another seat. Meanwhile, the BJP’s rivals believe there is a bigger objective — to spin every election into a high-stakes battle, not only weakening opponents and creating confusion within coalitions, but also preying on what non-BJP parties lack the most, resources.

BJP Maharashtra spokesperson Keshav Upadhye told ThePrint: “Elections are not fought on funds. They are fought on will power. In a democracy, you should go to the people and build trust. The truth is that people are not accepting you. They (rival parties) have their own problems which are exposed in such elections, and that’s the reason they make such statements to misguide people.”


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‘BJP in election mode 24/7’

“It’s a battle of wits and resources,” a senior Congress functionary from Delhi told ThePrint. “They know the Congress is very stretched for funds. To outmatch the BJP in elections where Independents and smaller parties play a crucial role, the Congress will need to dive deep into its resources. So, win or lose, the Congress is poorer.”

A senior NCP minister in the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maharashtra government told ThePrint: “The BJP is in election mode 24/7. It is impossible for us to compare with BJP’s resources and the extent to which the party is willing to use them in every election. There is just no front where we can fight them.”

Moreover, the minister added, by dealing the MVA an embarrassing defeat in the contest for Maharashtra’s sixth seat in the Rajya Sabha election, the BJP has “sowed seeds of unnecessary suspicion of each other” within the MVA parties.

Asked about what BJP’s rivals think is the ‘real strategy’ behind fielding extra candidates in RS and MLC polls, a senior Delhi BJP functionary in Delhi laughed off the question, saying, “When they stare at a defeat, they invent conspiracy theories.”

“The BJP is flush with funds. They also have the central agencies under their control. If the party didn’t have a government at the Centre, it wouldn’t have had the power it has now,” political commentator Pratap Asbe told ThePrint.

A fight of power and resources 

In the Rajya Sabha elections in Maharashtra, the BJP fielded three candidates, though it had the strength to get only two elected. Banking on the surplus votes of its alliance partners Congress and NCP, as well as some smaller parties and Independents, the Shiv Sena too fielded two candidates, despite having the strength to get only one elected.

Days before the election, the MVA put up a show of strength, appearing united and buoyant about winning the sixth seat for the Shiv Sena.

Eventually, of the six Rajya Sabha seats in Maharashtra, the BJP and MVA won three each, with the hotly-contested sixth seat going to BJP as the party’s candidate Dhananjay Mahadik trounced Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Pawar.

MVA leaders alleged that the BJP used its resources and political control of central agencies to arm-twist some Independents and smaller parties to swing votes in its favour.

A senior Congress leader claimed that the BJP spent generously on the Rajya Sabha election in Maharashtra. “The Congress made it clear that we don’t have the means to fight such an election. The Shiv Sena and NCP carried most of the financial weight required in the election,” he told ThePrint.

The process of ring-fencing MLAs in five-star hotels ahead of the elections itself cost the MVA about Rs 60 lakh, the Congress leader added.

Multiple sources in the MVA told ThePrint that they especially suspect to have lost three votes of the Hitendra Thakur-led Bahujan Vikas Aghadi (BVA). Thakur has preferred to keep his cards to himself.

Last year, the ED had attached assets worth Rs 34 crore of Thakur’s Viva Group in connection with a money laundering probe.

After the Rajya Sabha election, Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut, the party’s only victorious candidate, told reporters, “If the control of the ED is given to our party, even Devendra Fadnavis will vote for Shiv Sena.”

For elections to the 10 MLC seats, the BJP seems to be in a direct contest with the Congress as the latter has fielded two candidates — Chandrakant Handore and Bhai Jagtap — and is falling short of ten votes for its second candidate.

The senior Congress leader quoted earlier told ThePrint that party minister Balasaheb Thorat has been tasked with coming up with a strategy to overcome the shortfall, adding: “But by and large, it is the responsibility of Jagtap, our second candidate, to canvas for the votes he needs. He is financially strong.”

United in RS polls, divided for MLC polls 

In the days leading up to the MLC polls, there has been no united show of strength on display from the MVA.

All three parties of the coalition have fielded two candidates each. While the state legislative council has 288 members, its effective strength is 287 as a Shiv Sena MLA died last month.

MVA parties also face the challenge of keeping their flock together since the MLC election will be conducted through a secret ballot.

“Nobody is willing to take the responsibility of the coalition. The Rajya Sabha election exposed our lack of strategy and confusion,” a senior NCP functionary told ThePrint.

He questioned how his own party’s RS candidate, Praful Patel, got one vote more than what the MVA parties had agreed upon, while Congress’ Imran Pratapgarhi got two additional votes.

Similarly, a senior Congress MLA told ThePrint that by putting all its might in the Rajya elections, the BJP had several points to score: “The party got a Rajya Sabha seat, which is very significant, it got to humiliate Uddhav Thackeray, it got to increase its influence in western Maharashtra by having an MP from Kolhapur and it managed to stir mistrust within the MVA.”

“The MVA, on the other hand, bungled up its strategy, and suspicions about the support of allies only increased,” he added.

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)


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