The Telegraph
Saturday , May 24 , 2014
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Sena scores over old rivals

Mumbai, May 23: Powered by Narendra Modi’s campaign, the Shiv Sena has felled two rivals in one stroke — forcing Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena to eat humble pie and wresting traditional stronghold Konkan from Congress satrap Narayan Rane.

Raj’s candidates ended up a distant third in most of the 10 seats the MNS contested, while Narayan Rane, reeling from son Nilesh’s defeat, stepped down as minister in the Congress-NCP government. Both Raj and Rane had once been in the Sena.

The boost for the Sena, a few months ahead of the Assembly polls, comes after an initial hiccup: a Nitin Gadkari-Raj meeting that prompted the Sena to threaten to sever its 25-year-old alliance with the BJP.

Raj had fielded nine of his 10 candidates in constituencies where cousin Uddhav Thackeray’s Sena — not ally BJP — was in the fight.

Hoping to hit Sena harder, Raj had declared that if elected, his candidates would support Modi as Prime Minister. The Sena countered this appeal by sending the message that a vote for the MNS would only end up helping the Congress by splitting votes.

Raj’s plan did not work. The Sena won 18 seats, up from 11 in 2009 when Raj’s candidates had cut into its traditional Marathi votes.

Most of Raj’s nominees lost not only the race but their deposits too. Only Raju Patil, a little-known MNS nominee in Kalyan near Mumbai, could garner more than a lakh votes.

The MNS’s vote share has fallen to 1.5 per cent from 4 per cent in 2009. Even the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party — which contested all 48 seats on its debut but saw its candidates lose their deposits in 47 — has fared better than the MNS with 2.2 per cent.

Raj’s move to take on the Sena — which he had quit in 2006 to form the MNS — in this election was meant to keep cadre morale high but the fiasco has demoralised them with barely four months to go for the Maharashtra elections.

Raj, sources said, is likely to return to the streets by renewing his campaign against toll plazas soon in an attempt to boost the morale of MNS workers.

The party also plans to take a leaf out of the BJP’s book and declare Raj the chief ministerial candidate. “Like the BJP projected Modi as the prime ministerial candidate, we feel Raj should be named our CM candidate,” MNS legislator Praveen Darekar said.

If Raj’s drubbing would have been sweet revenge for the Sena, the humbling of old adversary Rane would also have been deeply satisfying.

Rane, who was the industries minister, had foiled the Sena’s repeated attempts to regain control of former bastion Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg since he left the party in 2005 for the Congress.

Rane tightened his grip on local bodies between 2006 and 2009. Rane’s son Nilesh was elected MP from the constituency in 2009.

This time, Vinayak Raut, a Sena MLA and an aide of party chief Uddhav, was fielded against Nilesh. The NCP became the catalyst for Nilesh’s loss when local party MLA and heavyweight Deepak Kesarkar refused to campaign for his ally.

Kesarkar had backed out alleging intimidation and violence by the Ranes. Days before the April 16 vote, NCP chief Sharad Pawar went to the region and tried to persuade Kesarkar to support Nilesh but failed. Nilesh lost by 1.5 lakh votes. Rane quit as minister days later.