Thane victory will brighten Sena hopes for power (News Analysis)

May 25th, 2008 - 10:26 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Uddhav Thackeray
By Shyam Pandharipande
Thane, May 25 (IANS) It would perhaps be too early to interpret Shiv Sena’s impressive victory in the Thane Lok Sabha by-election Sunday as a precursor to the party’s victory in next year’s general elections in alliance with an equally ascendant Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But the party’s handsome 90,872-vote win in the constituency where four of six assembly seats are held by the ruling Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) is certainly indicative of the voters’ mind.

Senior Shiv Sena legislator Neelam Gorhe was quite on the mark when she described the outcome of Thursday’s by-poll as a resounding defeat of the Maharashtra government as almost all NCP ministers in the state led by Deputy Chief Minister R.R. Patil had ceaselessly campaigned for their candidate Sanjeev Naik.

Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and Revenue Minister Narayan Rane too lent full support to the former Navi Mumbai mayor from the Congress’ side and so did Ramdas Athavale of Republican Party of India (RPI).

Sanjeev’s father, Labour Minister Ganesh Naik who likes to be called the ‘king’ of the Belapur-Murbad-Navi Mumbai belt in the constituency, had left no stone unturned for his victory. Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel too threw in his weight.

All this came to naught when young Anand Paranjpe, riding the hurricane campaign led single-handedly by Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray, got 462,744 votes as against 371,671 polled by Naik in a contest marked by a lukewarm voter turnout of 26 percent.

Anand’s father Prakash Paranjpe, whose death in February had caused the by-election, had won the seat four times in a row since 1991, thrice with a huge margin of nearly 100,000 but the last time, in 2004, with only 22,000 votes.

The seat was earlier held by Shiv Sena’s popular leader, late Anand Dighe, and BJP’s Rambhau Mhalgi and Ram Kapse before that.

NCP’s victory in the assembly segments of Belapur, Murbad and Ambernath and that of an independent (Pappu Kalani, known for his underworld links) backed by the party in Ulhasnagar in the assembly elections that followed the 2004 parliamentary poll had injected a feeling of euphoria in the rank and file of the party that did not wear out even after the reverses suffered in the civic elections of 2007 at the hands of the Shiv Sena-BJP combine.

Though the NCP was initially not very enthusiastic about the by-election with the general elections only a year away and its bigwigs in the district - Vasant Davkhare (who narrowly lost to Prakash Paranjpe in 2004), Jitendra Avhad and Ganesh Naik - not seeing eye to eye, the party leaders in the state had made it a prestige issue once the election was upon them and also thought they would manage to win it with the huge resources at their command.

Shiv Sena, on the other hand, banked on its well entrenched network of committed workers, a meticulously planned poll strategy and the lately revived Marathi sentiment besides the sympathy factor working in favour of late Prakash Paranjpe’s young, suave and urbane son Anand, an engineering and management graduate who looked very earnest during the campaign.

The slanging match between Thackeray and Patil throughout their campaign bereft of important issues of development might have deflected serious voters away from the by-election apart from summer holidays for schools and colleges, but, as it turns out, the committed voters did come out in support of their favoured parties - Shiv Sena to a much greater extent.

The result showed, much to the discomfiture of an overbearing Ganesh Naik, that the farmer community voters in Belapur and Murbad, whom he seemed to have taken for granted, had turned to Shiv Sena in a big way as NCP’s lead in the two assembly segments was no more than 9,500 and 8,500 respectively - what could be more embarrassing for the heavyweight minister than the fact that his son got a mere 9,500 votes in Belapur where he had got 95,000 in the 2004 election?

Apart from local issues, what seems to have cost the NCP - and its ally Congress - dearly is the anti-incumbency factor particularly on the counts of inflation, power crunch and farm suicides.

The lingering effect of these factors will be hard to counter for the ruling Democratic Front next year notwithstanding the slowly improving situation on these fronts.

BJP’s victory in Karnataka that came the same day its ally Shiv Sena won so decisively in Thane is bound to enthuse the combine that is smelling power both in the state and in New Delhi.

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