Shiv Sena hits back after Devendra Fadnavis says ready for mid-term polls
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Mumbai: Maharashtra’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and junior ally Shiv Sena have got into yet another spell of verbal sparring, even as Presidential elections loom.
The latest round of bickering started with Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut claiming in the first week of June that his party will trigger an “earthquake” in the state in July. Political observers and BJP functionaries interpreted it as yet another Shiv Sena threat to leave the government.
On Wednesday, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis followed up, telling reporters that his party was ready for mid-term elections in the state if “polls were imposed”.
A day later, Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray joined the issue, saying speculation about mid-term polls was created and fuelled by the BJP to divert attention from the implementation of the farm loan waiver. Thackeray was talking to reporters in Vidarbha’s Shegaon after a ‘Vijay Melava’ (victory convention) to celebrate Shiv Sena’s “victory” in securing the debt waiver.
Thackeray said Sena cadres will keep a strict watch to ensure a “blanket loan waiver” is implemented. “There would certainly be an earthquake if loan waiver is not implemented in totality,” he said.
Senior BJP leaders, both in Maharashtra and at the Centre, have been frequently annoyed at the Sena’s frequent outbursts at the government and the party. The problem for the BJP is that it needs the support of Shiv Sena in the upcoming election for President and vice-president, as the National Democratic Alliance is short of a majority. It does not want to spoil its equation with Shiv Sena and Telugu Desam Party (TDP), both of which have been demanding a loan waiver.
The war of words notwithstanding, cadres and leaders of both parties are not sure about the prospects if mid-term polls are indeed held.
“Fadnavis referred to the three back-to-back local elections where BJP emerged as the single-largest party,” said a senior BJP leader and minister in the Fadnavis cabinet. “But these elections happened three to five months back and the situation on ground has changed. Another critical factor is the ongoing farm unrest that exploded in April-June much after these polls. I am not personally confident that we would do as well in the mid-term polls as we did in local elections,” this minister said, requesting anonymity. He said any popular protest like the farmers’ agitation is “by default” directed against the incumbent government and has made a dent in government’s popularity.
“The loan waiver has been announced but who knows for sure what would be the political impact? Modalities are still being worked out and it is not an easy task to satisfy expectations of 13.6 million farmers who are not a homogeneous community in terms of land holding, quantum of loans and intensity of agrarian crisis. At this stage, every party can claim credit, but only the BJP runs the risk of becoming unpopular if the loan waiver is not comprehensive,” the minister said.
A Shiv Sena leader and legislator from western Maharashtra which saw the maximum farm protests said no party will gain a majority if mid-term polls were held today. “We were completely behind the protesting farmers and Uddhav saheb was the first politician who raised the demand for farm debt waiver when the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh announced it. We will benefit definitely but the larger share of the credit goes to the party and government that has actually announced loan waiver. This is what happened in 2009 general elections when Congress benefitted from 2008 loan waiver,” he said, requesting anonymity.