Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Sympathy Wave For Uddhav Thackeray, Sharad Pawar: Chhagan Bhujbal


The NCP leader said people want PM Narendra Modi to form a strong government.

The NDA in Maharashtra may not have it as easy as it did in 2014 and 2019, when it won 41 of 48 Lok Sabha seats, because of a sympathy wave in favour of Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar, a senior leader of the alliance, Chhagan Bhujbal has said. 

In an exclusive interview with NDTV on Saturday, Mr Bhujbal also opened up on his decision to withdraw from contention for the Nashik Lok Sabha seat and shared his thoughts on whether the NDA’s slogan for winning 400 seats – ‘ab ki baar 400 paar‘ – has made voters believe that the Constitution will be amended.

Maharashtra’s already interesting politics became more complex in 2022 when Eknath Shinde and a group of MLAs staged a rebellion, which led to the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government collapsing. Mr Shinde went on to align with the BJP and take oath as the chief minister, splitting the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena into two.

A year later, a similar script played out in the Sharad Pawar-led NCP, when his nephew Ajit Pawar split the party and also joined hands with the BJP, becoming a deputy chief minister in the process. The Maharashtra political landscape, thus, now has two Shiv Senas and two NCPs – under very similar but different names – pitted against each other. 

When Mr Bhujbal, who was at the forefront of the rebellion in the NCP with Ajit Pawar, was asked about the impact of this in the ongoing Lok Sabha polls, he said in Hindi, “I believe there is a sympathy wave – the way Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena split and a faction of the NCP switched sides. This is showing in their rallies. It doesn’t seem like they are failing the way they did in 2014 and 2019.” 

In both of those Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had fought in an alliance with the undivided Shiv Sena and the parties had won in 23 and 18 constituencies respectively.

“The people’s faith is, however, still in Narendra Modi and they want him to form a strong government,” he added.

The Maharashtra minister turned slightly emotional when he was asked about the contest in Sharad Pawar’s bastion of Baramati between his daughter Supriya Sule and Ajit Pawar’s wife, Sunetra. 

“Even for me, it is saddening, that people who have lived together in the same house for so many years… What is happening is something that many people are not liking. Whose fault it is, that is a different matter. But it would have been very good if this had not happened,” he said. 

Slogan Hurting NDA?

On the opposition’s charge, also made by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, that the NDA is seeking 400 seats because it wants to amend the Constitution and whether the “ab ki baar 400 paar” slogan has hurt the NDA alliance, Mr Bhujbal said, “The opposition’s campaign on this has been a strong one. People think the slogan is about changing the Constitution. And a BJP MP in Karnataka (Anantkumar Hegde) had also said this.”

“PM Modi has, however, said several times that the Constitution is strong and it can’t be changed even by BR Ambedkar himself. But this message is being given to the people. The impact will be seen only when the ballot boxes are opened,” he added.

Withdrawal From Contest

Nashik has been one of the most contentious constituencies as the BJP, Eknath Shinde’s Shiv Sena and Ajit Pawar’s NCP try to work out a seat-sharing arrangement and Mr Bhujbal pulled out of the race for the ticket on Friday. The candidate is yet to be announced and a tussle between the allies seems to be underway, with conflicting remarks being made by BJP leader Pankaja Munde and chief minister Shinde.  

Mr Bhujbal said he had not asked for the ticket but was told by other leaders in the NCP during Holi that he would contest from Nashik. This, he said, was conveyed to him after a late-night meeting between the allies in Delhi where seats were being discussed one by one instead of in blocks for each party. 

The minister said Mr Shinde also wanted the seat for the Shiv Sena and that he agreed to contest because Nashik is his base and he and his son have been MLAs from there. His nephew, Sameer Bhujbal, was also an MP from the seat. 

Stating that he got a lot of support from the people because of the development work he had done, Mr Bhujbal said he was surprised because his name was not declared from the seat for three weeks.

“When Narayan Rane’s name was also declared (for Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg) and mine wasn’t, I figured they don’t want to do it. That’s when I said I don’t want to fight from the seat. If I have to contest, I want to do so with respect. I know my status. I don’t like asking for tickets. The only time I asked for a ticket was from (Shiv Sena founder) Bal Thackeray for the municipal corporation in Mumbai in 1970,” he recalled.

“After that I have been involved even in ticket distribution. So I thought waiting for so long is not right for me. So I felt bad, and decided not to contest,” he said.

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