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Ahead of Assembly election, schisms between alliance cadres roil ruling Mahayuti coalition

INDAhead of Assembly election, schisms between alliance cadres roil ruling Mahayuti coalition

Storm in a tea cup?:Chief Minister Eknath Shinde with Deputy CMs Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar ahead of the Maharashtra Assembly session in Mumbai. File photo
| Photo Credit: ANI

For all its professions of unity, deep rifts within the ruling Mahayuti coalition comprising the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the Ajit Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party are coming to the fore at the cadre level following the alliance’s rout in the Lok Sabha election.

A viral audio clip in which the Beed district chief of Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde’s Shiv Sena is heard telling a leader from the Ajit Pawar-led NCP that he reportedly worked against BJP’s Pankaja Munde went viral on Thursday.

The voice in the clip, believed to be that of Shinde camp leader Kundlik Khande, is heard telling a local NCP leader (from the ruling Ajit Pawar faction) that he actively supported Ms. Munde’s rival – Bajrang Sonwanae of the Sharad Pawar-led NCP (SP) – in several hundred booths and even contributed money for Mr. Sonawane’s campaign.

The voice purporting to that of Mr. Khande is heard revealing how he worked for Mr. Sonawane’s campaign (and against his own ally, the BJP’s Ms. Munde) is as many as 376 booths of the Beed Lok Sabha constituency in the State’s Marathwada region.

Ms. Munde had narrowly lost the fiercely-contested Beed seat by a thin margin of just over 6,000-odd votes to Mr. Sonawane in one of the most high-profile upsets in the entire Lok Sabha election in Maharashtra.

The Mahayuti, which managed to win barley 17 of the 48 Lok Sabha seats, suffered a particularly rude jolt in Marathwada, losing its strongholds to the Opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance which triumphed on seven of the eight seats in the region.

After the clip went viral, Mr. Khande was fiercely trolled by Ms. Munde’s supporters on social media platforms.

As if this schism between the Shinde-led Shiv Sena and the BJP was not embarrassing, a local BJP leader from Pune district openly called upon his party brass to sever ties with Ajit Pawar’s NCP in the presence of the BJP’s Daund MLA Rahul Kul.

At a BJP cadre meeting in Indapur, the party rank-and-file expressed their ire against Ajit Pawar’s ‘domineering attitude’ as Pune’s Guardian Minister.

Leading the charge was Sudarshan Choudhari, the BJP’s Pune District vice-president and a director of the Pune Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC).

Clamouring for the BJP leadership to sever ties with Ajit Pawar’s NCP, Mr. Choudhari underscored the fundamental ideological dissonance between party workers of the BJP and the NCP.

“We have been fighting against them [the NCP] for more than ten years now and we don’t want this kind of power where they are in the ruling alliance. Every booth-level and taluk-level BJP worker feels that Ajit Pawar should not be in the Mahayuti if our party is to win the upcoming Assembly election,” Mr. Choudhari said, adding that injustice had been done against BJP loyalists at the cost of giving Ajit Pawar and his NCP ‘defectors’ preferential treatment.

He said that the BJP workers had staged countless ‘rasta rokos’ against the NCP when the Congress-NCP government had been in power in Maharashtra (1999-2014).

Soon after the BJP’s abysmal Lok Sabha performance in the State, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh had ascribed it to its alliance with the Ajit Pawar-led NCP faction.

Later, several voices within the Maharashtra BJP leadership, too, made noises over the need to keep up the alliance with the NCP faction ahead of the crucial Maharashtra Assembly election later this year.

Prior to the Lok Sabha election, Ajit Pawar had tried to mend fences with his political rival, Mr. Kul given that Daund is part of the Baramati Lok Sabha constituency.

However, Mr. Pawar’s wife, Sunetra Pawar – the Mahayuti’s candidate- had lost the election from Baramati to her sister-in-law, Supriya Sule of the NCP (SP) in a high-prestige contest.

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