BJP-Sena prove mettle in ‘Maha’ battle: Gadkari retains Nagpur; Urmila Matondkar trails by 4 lakh votes

Shruti Nair
CM Devendra Fadnavis and Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray share sweets to celebrate 2019 polls CM Devendra Fadnavis and Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray share sweets to celebrate victory 2019 polls. (Express photo by Prashant Nadkar)

In a state hit by rural distress, unemployment and drought, BJP had looked to offset such issues through its alliance with Shiv Sena, promises of quotas to the Maratha community and farm loan waivers in its bid to repeat its majestic performance of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It seems the strategy has been successful. As final trends showed them surging in at least 40 of the 48 seats. In Mumbai, they are ahead in all six seats.

In 2014, the NDA had swept the polls, winning 42 seats here. The BJP itself had won 23 seats and the Sena 18. NCP was victorious in four seats whereas Congress could only conquer two. Congress stalwarts Sanjay Nirpuam and Milind Deora were unable to retain their seats.

The Lok Sabha elections will also likely dictate, with their results, the contours of Maharashtra Assembly elections scheduled later this year.

Exit polls have indicated that the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance was unlikely to repeat its 2014 sweep of Maharashtra in hotly-contested Lok Sabha election. While most of the exit polls predicted that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) would lose seats in the state, the Congress and its ally NCP alliance are still seen as finishing far behind.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, BJP contested on 25 seats while Shiv Sena fought on 23. Congress and NCP fought 25 and 19 seats respectively, leaving two seats each for their allies.

EXPLAINED | Why Congress position as Maharashtra s principal opposition party is on a shaky wicket

WATCH | High-stake third phase of polling

Sanjay Nirupam, Milind Deora

READ | Countdown to May 23 results: Two decades later, NCP confident of breaking double-digit jinx in Maharashtra

The unity of the Congress and NCP and the extent to which their leaders have overcome their past differences will be a deciding factor in the outcome of the elections. Meanwhile, it also remains to be seen if the Prakash Ambedkar-led Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, which attempted to bring different marginalised sections of the society under one umbrella and fielded 48 candidates, proved advantageous to the BJP by cutting into the opposition s vote share.

READ | In Maharashtra, exit polls say NDA unlikely to repeat 2014 performance, but still way ahead

Contenders in the fray

The state’s dynamics heavily relies on who outrivals whom in some of the major constituencies.

WATCH | Nitin Gadkari On Young Voters’ Perception Of The Government

Union Minister Nitin Gadkari who was seeking re-election from Nagpur and was pitted against Congress veteran Nana Patole was leading with a margin of 55,000 votes. In 2014, Gadkari defeated Congress’ Vilas Muttenwar, winning by a margin of nearly two lakh votes. Before 2014, Congress always had a stronghold over Nagpur despite it being the RSS headquarters.

OPINION | Across the Aisle: The importance of being Mr Gadkari

Meanwhile, Baramati was to test the popularity of NCP MP Supriya Sule, Sharad Pawar’s daughter, who had weathered the ‘Modi wave’ in 2014 continued on her ride strongly against the BJP-Sena combine with a lead of 1.5 lakh votes. She was up against BJP’s Kanchan Kul, wife of RSP MLA Rahul Kul. Sule is expected to retain her family pocket borough which saw party supremo Sharad Pawar, in a sudden announcement, refraining from contesting the polls.

READ | Supriya Sule interview with The Indian Express

Another Union Minister in the fray is MoS for Home Hansraj Ahir, who was seeking re-election for the fourth time from Chandrapur was trailing after initial trends came out. In Raigad, Shiv Sena leader Anant Gite is seeking re-election against NCP’s Sunil Tatkare. Gite was part of Modi’s cabinet.

Former Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde who was engaged in a three-cornered fight against two bulwarks in Solapur Lingayat seer Jaisiddeshwar Swami of the BJP and Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi’s Prakash Ambedkar had been trailing badly. The grandson of BR Ambedkar, Prakash contested from two seats this time — Akola, which is his hometown, and Solapur.

Former Union Minister Sushilkumar Shinde (File Photo)

Ashok Chavan, who was among two Congress leaders to win in the 2014 polls, is pitted against Shiv Sena MLA Pratap Chikhlikar in the Nanded seat this time.

Marking his political debut, Parth Pawar, son of NCP leader Ajit Pawar, contested the Maval seat against sitting Shiv Sena MP Srirang Barne and was seen leading initially, but the trends took a major U-turn as ended up trailing badly. Meanwhile, in Beed, former union minister Gopinath Munde’s younger daughter Pritam Munde faced a stiff challenge from Congress’ Bajrang Sonawane. She is state minister and BJP MLA Pankaja Munder’s sister.

READ | Parth Pawar: The 29-year-old for whom veteran Sharad Pawar made way

The power struggle in Ahmednagar which was being closely watched as the seat was a prestige battle for both BJP and NCP. After NCP Chief Sharad Pawar refused to part the seat to Congress, son of Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil Sujay defected to join BJP and contested from the seat which he eventually won against NCP local MLA Sangram Jagtap. There are reports of Radhakrishna Patil following his son’s footsteps and soon joining BJP.

Joining the saffron party, Sujay Vikhe-Patil had told The Indian Express, "BJP was obvious choice Didn t want to commit suicide by joining NCP." The tussle in Ahmednagar found Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil in a tight spot and he had to resign from his position as the Leader of Opposition in the Assembly due to pressure from the party.

BJP MP Poonam Mahajan won the Mumbai North Central seat in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. (File photo)

Meanwhile, in all the six Lok Sabha seats in Mumbai, the BJP-Sena alliance has swept over, as Congress leader Priya Sunil Dutt (North Central Mumbai) and Milind Deora (South Mumbai) are unable to retain their lost glory.

BJP’s Poonam Mahajan reclaimed the North Central Mumbai seat against Dutt who conceded defeat on Twitter, congratulating her opponent. All eyes were on Congress’ new entrant this Lok Sabha polls actress Urmila Matondkar, who contested from North Mumbai seat against BJP’s Gopal Shetty but trailed miserably with a margin of more than four lakh votes. In the previous elections, Shetty who had previously clinched the constituency from Congress’ Sanjay Nirupam by a margin of 4.40 lakh votes; as he repeated his stellar performance this year.

EXPRESS EXCLUSIVE | Urmila Matondkar interview with The Indian Express

Prep for State-battle

The results of the Lok Sabha elections will define which party would have the upper hand in the Assembly polls scheduled later this year. BJP has campaigned in the state with an eye on the Assembly polls, focussing around two broad issues — infrastructure development in terms of rural road connectivity, metro lines and housing.

READ | Devendra Fadnavis: There s a very strong, silent wave in favour of Modi across Maharashtra

The BJP had emerged as the single-largest party after the Assembly elections in Maharashtra with the Shiv Sena a distant second, defeating the Congress and the NCP in the state. However, BJP recorded a huge jump in its tally of seats from 46 to 122 and eventually formed the government with Sena support.