Updated: February 12, 2021 9:47:05 am
THEIR alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ruptured amid seat-sharing talks early this year, but restive Shiv Sainiks in large parts of Marathwada spent the past year straining at the leash, very slowly rebuilding their presence in what was the party’s sole area of dominance outside Mumbai and Konkan.
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As Zilla Parishads in the eight districts of Marathwada go to polls Thursday, senior Shiv Sena leaders believe their pockets of influence in the backward and arid region, dented since the BJP’s sudden ascendancy in 2014, will witness a resurgence of the party. Particularly in the districts of Aurangabad, Osmanabad and Parbhani, the Sena’s campaign over the past week was raucous and confident.
Ambadas Danve, the Sena’s Aurangabad district president, says three quarters of the BJP workers in the district are not “core BJP wallahs” but those who flooded the party amid the 2014 wave, those he describes as “ignorant of the Sangh and Atalji”.
There are 1,200-odd villages in the district, and every one of them was visited through the past weeks by Danve himself, or four-term MP Chandrakant Khaire or one of the MLAs, according to the district party chief.
Danve has 64,000 unread WhatsApp messages, in about 150 groups through which the Sena is spreading its campaign messages in the district, in addition to a separate team handling campaigning via Facebook.
Every speech by the Sena top brass of the district, even a short quip on the impacts of demonetisation during a candidate’s office opening ceremony, was uploaded on Facebook within minutes.
“We had been preparing for any eventuality for about two months,” says Danve, about the exhaustive campaign. “We could see around the start of the talks that the BJP’s language didn’t sound very accommodating.”
But long before alliance discussions began, across Marathwada, the Shiv Sena was already hard at work on deepening its roots where it has some pre-eminence. As back-to-back drought years crushed rural families’ incomes, the Sena borrowed an old idea from Maharashtra’s political elites — to sponsor women’s weddings to relieve parents of that large expense.
“We organised 244 weddings,” says Danve, “or brought together 488 families.” That was Aurangabad’s tally of celebrations sponsored. Similar initiatives were underway in Parbhani, Osmanabad and Jalna too.
“Uddhavji took a personal interest in sending us the mangalsutras for the brides,” says Danve. In addition, the brides in all the weddings organised by the Sena in Marathwada received Paithani sarees, a cupboard, 24 utensils and more. “We treated them as our daughters’ weddings,” says Sanjay Shirsat, Sena MLA from Aurangabad.
If the Devendra Fadnavis government’s most visible project for the drought-hit rural Marathwada was the Jalyukt Shivar programme, the Sena undertook similar works or pitched in for river widening and check-dam cleaning under the party’s banner and its own nomenclature: Shiv Jal Kranti.
“Works undertaken under Shiv Jal Kranti in Parbhani, Pathri and Jintur talukas were extensive, people are reaping the benefit of that even today,” says Sena MLA Rahul Patil of Parbhani. The Shiv Jal Kranti signboard continues to be seen by the side of widened streams and rivers. Patil believes the Sena will not just double its numbers in the Parbhani ZP but will assume power on its own, owing to the weakening of the Congress and NCP in the region.
Besides, party president Uddhav Thackeray contributed approximately Rs 8 crore, proceeds from a photography exhibition, to be distributed among families that had witnessed a farm crisis-related suicide.
The Sena has had some influence in Marathwada from early on. In 1989, when the party had only four MPs in Lok Sabha, two were from Marathwada. But the BJP has gained ground rapidly since 2014. In 2009, two of Marathwada’s 46 Assembly constituencies were represented by the BJP. In 2014, that tally went up to 15 MLAs.
What’s more, the results of the municipal council polls held between November 2016 and January 2017 left the Sena at the bottom of the table, the BJP far ahead. But Sena leaders insist rural voting patterns will be different, and that the Sena will regain ground, especially in the Aurangabad, Osmanabad and Parbhani ZPs.
Lata Karande, a former Panchayat Samiti member in Aurangabad, says the impact of demonetisation was felt sharply in rural Marathwada.
“We had to beg for our own money in banks,” she says, amid campaigning for the dhanush-baan (bow and arrow). Alongside her, Sainath Shinde (23), a daily wager in the Waluj MIDC, says he doesn’t get work on most days. “The unit making two-wheeler parts doesn’t have enough orders, so we are sent home,” he says.
On the flip side, this is the first time that the BJP will contest all seats in the ZPs, point out BJP leaders. The talukas where the recent municipal council polls saw BJP presidents elected could prove tough for the Sena to wrest back.
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