Mumbai: With its eyes set on the 2024 general election, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is aggressively trying to expand its base in 16 parliamentary constituencies in Maharashtra, of which eight are held by the Eknath Shinde-led faction of the Shiv Sena.
One of the seats, Kalyan, is held by the Maharashtra chief minister’s son, Shrikant Shinde.
The BJP’s outreach in these constituencies — part of its larger national ‘Mission 144’—made the Shinde camp uncomfortable, several MPs from the Shinde-led Shiv Sena told ThePrint.
Mission 144 of the BJP entails the target of winning a majority of the 144 parliamentary seats where it had mostly lost in 2019.
“This plan was drawn up earlier when there was no alliance between us. However, the BJP senior leaders like Amit Shah ji and Devendra Fadnavis ji assured us that since we will be in an alliance, they will also help us towards winning our constituencies,” Kalyan MP Shrikant Shinde told ThePrint.
Leaders of the Shinde faction, who were initially upset, were placated by the BJP.
Admitting that BJP is trying to strengthen its party base, Shinde said that there was no threat now. “We all will work together for upcoming elections,” he added.
Senior BJP leader and cabinet minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, too, reassured the Sena faction that the alliance remained intact. “How can we desert them? The BJP means the NDA. What it means is we all should come together and fight. It doesn’t mean that if it is a Shinde camp seat, we can’t leave them alone,” he said.
In the Lok Sabha tally, Maharashtra comes second with 48 seats after Uttar Pradesh’s 80 seats. Since the beginning, the BJP has banked upon the Shiv Sena to get seats both in the Lok Sabha as well as the Maharashtra Assembly. The BJP-Shiv Sena combine won 41 seats in 2014 and retained the score in 2019.
Now, with Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray turning an arch rival and joining the rival ranks of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the BJP is banking on the Shinde camp to cover up the lost ground in the state. Of the total 18 Shiv Sena MPs, 12 MPs have lent their support to the Shinde camp.
Microplanning & strategy
The BJP has already started research and data collection for the 16 seats, with union ministers and national leaders already starting to visit these constituencies.
Baramati, Raigad, Shirur, Satara (NCP), Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg, South Mumbai (Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena), Chandrapur (Congress), Aurangabad (AIMIM), Shirdi, Kolhapur, Hatkanangle, Buldhana, Hingoli, Palghar, Kalyan, and South Central Mumbai (Shinde faction of Shiv Sena) are the targeted Lok Sabha constituencies.
Union Minister Anurag Thakur visited Kalyan last week where he asked BJP workers to focus on infrastructure since Kalyan-Dombivali is a part of the Smart City Mission.
Thakur visited Kalyan and promised funds for developmental work, said Shinde.
Mungantiwar, meanwhile, gave details of how the BJP plans to go ahead in these segments. “Work on booth level, young voters, communication with different communities.. It’s a big plan, a research… Experts are doing this research. What are the key factors in those constituencies, religious matters of those constituencies, whether key union government schemes like Jan Dhan Yojana, Garib Kalyan Yojana, or electricity, water are available or not [are being looked into],” he added.
The people are miffed with the erstwhile Maha Vikas Aghadi government, Mungantiwar said. “So our plan is to make our schemes full proof, be it state level or union level. They [schemes] should reach each and every one.”
BJP state president Chandrashekhar Bawankule, who is on a tour of Maharashtra, addressed party workers in Aurangabad on Friday. “Even though we are going to fight as an alliance, it’s our responsibility as a BJP member to strengthen our party. And once we do so, even though our government will be with an alliance, the BJP should have a majority on its own in the future,” he said.
Bawankule also advised his party workers to reach out to the beneficiaries of central schemes to ensure they are connected with the prime minister.
Earlier this month, Bawankule was in Buldhana where he claimed the next MP from Hingoli would be of the BJP. Buldhana is under Shiv Sena MP Prataprao Jadhav, a leader of the Eknath Shinde camp. The statement had caused unease among the Shinde faction.
But Jadhav said Union minister Bhupendra Yadav reached his constituency and clarified that the two parties will fight in an alliance and that it was the responsibility of BJP as well to ensure win for the Shiv Sena candidates.
The BJP has also set its sight on Baramati, which is held by three-time MP and NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule. Baramat, a stronghold of the Pawars since 1996, has never gone to the BJP.
Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who was given the target of studying Baramati in Pune division, was on a three-day visit to the constituency from Thursday.
“I have come to strengthen the BJP in the constituency, not for any one family.What is this Lok Sabha target you [the media] keep saying. I urge the media not to keep repeating this. Do not impose your opinion on me,” she said.
BJP insiders said the party wants to repeat the 2019 act of defeating the Congress at Amethi in Baramati this time. “We ended the supremacy of the Gandhi family in Amethi by defeating Rahul Gandhi. If we can do it in Amethi, then we can easily do it in Baramati,” BJP MLA Ram Kadam told the media.
On its part, the NCP said it was not worried with the BJP’s plan and extended welcome to the finance minister. “It’s never too late in life to learn. She can come and learn how to nurture and develop a constituency. Eventually when she realises the good work done by Supriya Sule in Baramati, the BJP’s dream of winning will burst. We welcome her and happy to have her there,” NCP national spokesperson Clyde Crasto said.
(Edited by Tony Rai)