Athawale senses a ‘kill’ in BJP-Sena tussle for Mumbai seat

Athawale senses a ‘kill’ in BJP-Sena tussle for Mumbai seat

Mumbai: NDA ally and Union Minister for Social Welfare Ramdas Athawale senses an opportunity to wrest the Mumbai North-East Lok Sabha seat in the ongoing tussle between Maharashtra’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena coalition over the constituency, party sources indicated on Friday.

Due to huge differences with the Shiv Sena, the BJP has so far not announced the candidature for Mumbai North-East – currently represented by Kirit Somaiya – though it retained and declared the names of Poonam Mahajan (Mumbai North-Central) and Gopal Shetty (Mumbai North).

The Sena has made it clear that if Somaiya is nominated, it would not only campaign for his defeat but this could also hamper its statewide alliance with the BJP.

The cat-fight between the two allies is considered ‘fortuitous’ by Athawale, who has been clamouring for at least two seats for his Republican Party of India-A.

He has been lobbying hard for getting at least one seat in Mumbai and another elsewhere in the state from the BJP-Sena’s quotas, but both have rejected his demands.

“While Shiv Sena feels the RPI should contest Mumbai North-East, the BJP wants to give us Mumbai South-Central seat,” Athawale claimed last fortnight, on the seats held by BJP and Sena, respectively.

However, both parties are reluctant to give up their seats in the country’s commercial capital represented by Poonam Mahajan (BJP) and Rahul Shewale (Sena), or elsewhere in the state to the RPI-A in the high-stakes elections.

A senior RPI leader pointed out how Athawale enjoys a great rapport with both Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray and allotting the seats to the RPI-A could a win-win situation for all sides.

“If the BJP re-nominates Somaiya, it could be in danger of losing that seat as Sena will work against him. Athawale can be a formidable candidate as both parties will work with RPI-A and the huge Dalit population in that constituency will help,” a party leader explained, requesting anonymity.

It maybe recalled that prior to the alliance, Somaiya had been a bitter critic of the Sena and once even threatened to throw its top leadership in jail if voted back to power.

The Sena hit back by opposing Somaiya’s nomination and warned of heavy costs to the BJP, including losing the seat and even the alliance.

In this scenario, another senior aide said that Athawale could be an effective counter to the Prakash Ambedkar’s Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh and AIMIM’s Owaisi brothers which will contest elections for all 48 seats in the state under the banner of the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA).

The major opponent in Mumbai North-East will be former MP Sanjay D. Patil of the Nationalist Congress Party, which has only one seat in Mumbai, with the remaining five going to the Congress quota.

Patil could have an edge with campaign support from Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, which is not contesting the Lok Sabha polls this time.

Maharashtra, which has 48 Lok Sabha constituencies, the second-highest in the country after Uttar Pradesh’s 80 seats, was unilaterally carved out by the BJP-Sena last month, leaving all other smaller allies fuming.

The leaders of five parties small in the Maharashtra NDA even held a ‘mini-conclave’ and unanimously demanded an adequate number of seats for both the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections.

After blowing hot and cold for over a year, the BJP-Sena last month entered into a pre-poll alliance in the presence of Thackeray and BJP President Amit Shah.

They will fight the parliamentary elections in the 25:23 ratio and contest the assembly elections later this year on a 50:50 basis, after seat allotments to the smaller alliance partners.