Mumbai: With less than four months before the next general elections are likely to be held, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will deploy in Maharashtra its top guns this week to gauge the public mood and also get a sense from the cadres about the ground situation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate a bunch of development and welfare schemes in Solapur and address a public meeting on January 9. BJP president Amit Shah will also tour parts of Maharashtra including Nagpur, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS) headquarters, this week to hold meetings with the party office bearers and cadres. On Sunday, Shah addressed a meeting of BJP’s booth workers in Marathwada’s Latur.
The BJP’s big outreach comes a few days after Shah asked the party MPs from Maharashtra to get ready for an electoral fight “with or without Shiv Sena," according to one of the MPs who attended the meeting with Shah in Delhi last week. “Both Modi ji’s programme and Amit bhai’s visit were planned before the meeting of the party MPs. But their significance has gone up after we have been asked to not wait indefinitely for the Shiv Sena. We are now realistically looking at the ground situation and Modi ji’s public rally will also give us a sense of the public mood," said the MP who did not want to be named. He said the Prime Minister’s visit was also being seen as a “morale-booster" by the BJP cadres after the party lost elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh.
Maharashtra is an extremely important state for the BJP as the party won 23 seats in the 2014 general elections and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) of which the Shiv Sena was part won 42 of the total 48 Lok Sabha seats. Now, with Hatkanangle MP Raju Shetti’s Swabhimani Paksha which was part of the NDA in 2014, having nearly joined the opposition Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance in 2019 and the Shiv Sena still rejecting the BJP overtures for a pre-poll alliance, retaining its 2014 tally in Maharashtra in the national scheme of things in 2019 has become a paramount challenge for the BJP.
In fact, a day after Shah held a meeting with BJP MPs from Maharashtra in Delhi where the BJP president is learnt to have set a deadline of January 31 for the Shiv Sena to decide on alliance, Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut said nobody could issue an ultimatum to the Shiv Sena. Senior BJP leader and Maharashtra revenue minister Chandrakant Patil, however, told reporters last week that the two parties were in talks but he also reiterated that the Shiv Sena leadership should not delay a decision on alliance. Yet, in an indication that he is not going to be “coerced into an alliance with the BJP", Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray has scheduled his Marathwada visit from January 9. “This is part of Uddhav saheb’s continuing farmer outreach. He will talk to farmers hit by drought and also be extending Shiv Sena’s relief to the farmers," said a Sena functionary requesting anonymity. He pointed out that the Shiv Sena was actually engaging with the farmers on the day when Modi would be “flaunting himself for votes" in Solapur.
The BJP, however, says it is not perturbed by the fact that Thackeray’s Marathwada visit fell on the day Modi would be in Maharashtra. “He is free to schedule his visit. Modi ji’s programme was finalised last month and he will also be among the beneficiaries of some central and state government schemes. We are not unduly worried about this alliance talk after Amit Bhai’s assurance to the MPs that the BJP will have the alliance on its terms and not on Shiv Sena’s terms," said a senior Maharashtra BJP functionary requesting anonymity.