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Lok Sabha elections: Sympathy for Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray

“Uddhav Thackeray’s Sena is the real Sena,” Murlidhar Ainde says in Maval town, expressing resentment with the BJP for engineering the split in the Sena

J.P. Yadav Pune, Baramati, Maval Published 06.05.24, 05:13 AM
Anita Sonwane at her kiosk in Baramati.

Anita Sonwane at her kiosk in Baramati. Picture by JP Yadav

Anita Sonwane, who runs a small cigarette kiosk just across the road from the new and glitzy “model bus depot” in Baramati city, reacts angrily when asked about the elections.

Yahan ka neta sab gunda hai, chhor hai (All the politicians here are goons, thieves),” she retorts, insisting she has no intention to vote.


A little later, having got the frustration off her chest, the Dalit woman in her 50s says: “Modi achchha hai, desh ke liye achchha hai. Lekin yahan ka uska leader sab gunda hai (Modi is good, good for the country. But all his party leaders here are goons).”

Anita’s anger is primarily directed at Ajit Pawar, local Nationalist Congress Party MLA and one of Maharashtra’s two deputy chief ministers.

She claims the bus depot, which resembles an airport, stands on land that is the “baap-dada ka zameen (ancestral land)” of the Dalits in her slum, but they got no compensation.

“Ajit Dada behaved very rudely with us. He told us to go to court (to seek compensation),” she alleges.

She claims the Dalits held protests for months seeking compensation. “How can we poor people fight Dada and the government in court?”

Anita says the Dalits will vote for the “tutari (trumpet)”, the election symbol of Sharad Pawar’s NCP faction.

Nandu Sonwane, another Dalit, says: “(Sharad) Pawar Saheb is a good man. We are hopeful that he will help us get compensation.”

He adds that despite the community’s goodwill for Modi, the Dalits will not
vote for the NDA nominee from the NCP, Sunetra Pawar, wife of Ajit.

Similar sympathy for Uddhav Thackeray, who lost most of his erstwhile Shiv Sena MLAs and MPs to the rebel (and current chief minister) Eknath Shinde, is palpable in the Maval Lok Sabha constituency, spanning the districts of Pune and Raigad.

Like the two NCP factions clashing in Baramati, here the main fight is between “Eknath Shinde’s Sena” and “Uddhav Thackeray’s Sena”. Among the traditional Sena voters, a distinct tilt towards Uddhav can be felt.

“Uddhav Thackeray’s Sena is the real Sena,” Murlidhar Ainde says in Maval town, expressing resentment with the BJP for engineering the split in the Sena. “The MLAs may have gone with Shinde but the voters are with Uddhav Saheb.”

However, asked about the Modi government’s performance, Ainde echoes Anita.

“We have no problems with Modi. He has enhanced the name of our country and taken some big decisions,” he says, referring to the abrogation of Article 370 and the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya.

Describing himself as a “hardcore Hindutva voter”, he says the anger of many like him, who have always voted for the Sena, is directed at the local BJP leaders.

“Devendra Fadnavis is the main culprit. He is responsible for luring away Shinde and other MLAs, and also Ajit Pawar,” says Ram Shinde, standing beside Ainde.

Across swathes of western Maharashtra, the electorate betrays a common and somewhat paradoxical sentiment: anger at the BJP for splitting the two main state parties but without holding Modi or even Amit Shah directly responsible.

Most of the traditional backers of the NCP and the Sena feel the state BJP leadership has wronged Sharad Pawar and Uddhav, and that voters need to back the duo so that they stay relevant when Assembly polls are held later this year.

The farmers, mostly Marathas, feel they need a leader like Sharad Pawar to continue to have a strong voice.

“If the BJP and its allies sweep the state again, it could mean the end of the road for both Sharad Pawar and Uddhav; so we have to support these two,” says Sunil Kamble, a farmer, on the outskirts of Maval town.

The sympathy for Pawar Sr and Uddhav, combined with the discontent over “price rise”, “farm distress”, “Maratha reservation” and “cooption of corrupt leaders”, poses a challenge for the BJP.

The BJP and its then ally – the united Shiv Sena --- had swept 41 of the state’s 48 Lok Sabha seats in 2019, the BJP winning 23 of them. Privately, most BJP leaders in Pune accept that the NDA’s combined tally in Maharashtra is bound to fall.

“The BJP, however, will suffer minimum damage. The major blow will be faced by the Sena (Shinde faction) and Ajit Pawar (NCP),” a key BJP strategist says, acknowledging the “undercurrent of sympathy” for the two “wronged leaders”.

Prashant Angale, an auto-rickshaw driver, points to the cut-outs of INDIA bloc leaders put up inside the Congress office in Pune.

“Who among them will become Prime Minister if they (INDIA) win?” he asks, and then answers the question himself. “They will fight among themselves.”

Baramati votes on May 7; Pune and Maval on May 13

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