In the throes of an anti-incumbency sentiment, the ruling Congress and NCP are poaching on Shiv Sena MPs and leaders. While the Congress managed to lure Shirdi MP Bhausaheb Wakchoure, Anand Paranjape (Kalyan) and Ganeshrao Dudhgaonkar (Parbhani) are with the NCP. The BJP is also trying to corner its ally and replace it as the dominant partner in the saffron alliance.
The NCP has also netted Yuva Sena spokesperson Rahul Narvekar and nominated him as their candidate from Maval. The rival Raj Thackeray led MNS has pitched former Bharatiya Vidyarthi Sena (BVS) president Abhijit Panse and former Sena leader Ashok Khandebharad from the Thane and Shirur Lok Sabha constituencies respectively. The Lok Sabha elections will be a litmus test for Sena president Uddhav Thackeray as these will be the first polls to take place after the death of Sena supremo Bal Thackeray in November 2012.
The NCP has emerged as a more viable point of call for disgruntled Shiv Sainiks than the MNS, whose chief Raj is pitched as his uncle, late Sena chief Bal Thackeray's political successor, due to its advantage of being in power, aggression and a strong second rung like the Sena of yore. Sena sources admit that the NCP's control over local power centres like the Zilla Parishad's makes its easy to dole out political patronage. NCP leaders claim that more Sena men are eager to jump ship.
Adding to the Shiv Sena's troubles, its ally in Raigad--the Peasants and Workers Party (PWP)--has decided to field candidates from the Maval and Raigad seats, which may work against the Sena and in the NCP's favour. The BJP has already put the Sena in a tricky position by its overtures to Raj.
Sena MP from Maval, Gajanan Babar, who was denied a re-nomination in favour of Shirang Barne, is also likely to jump ship to the MNS, while Mohan Rawle, who was the Sena's longest serving MP, has already been expelled for his verbal attacks on the party leadership. "The Sena is in a perilous state in Maharashtra's politics," admitted a Sena source, adding that in contrast, it seemed to be in a strong position a few months ago, only to have its ally and the ruling parties try to turn the tables on it. "The leadership must show foresight and imagination. Uddhav must also try and bridge the communication gap with the cadre and ensure there is no confusion in the organisation," he said. "The NCP keeps a hawks eye on disgruntled Sena leaders," he said, observing that the Sharad Pawar led party operated on the "franchisee model" where local satraps remained loyal to the leadership for the spoils of power.
However, MLC and Sena spokesperson Neelam Gorhe said these dissensions reflected the desire of these leaders to "stay close to those in power instead of in the opposition." She added that there were complaints by local voters and cadre against Wakchoure and Dudhgaonkar and questioned why Narvekar had quit the Sena if he had indeed withdrawn his legislative council nomination at the behest of the party leadership. "The NCP feels that after Balasaheb's death, Shiv Sainiks are searching for another political option," said Sandeep Pradhan, political editor, Maharashtra Times, adding that the Sena and NCP were both anti-Congress parties. He added that the NCP had the advantage of being in power and controlling the crucial home ministry and had a stronger party organisation especially in rural areas helping it serve as a better magnet for disgruntled Shiv Sena leaders than the MNS.
Pradhan said the BJP wanted to upstage the Sena as the dominant partner in the saffron alliance and aspired to eventually install its own leader as Maharashtra's chief minister. He added that the two parties shared a common electoral space, which made it essential for one party to encroach on the catchment of the other to dominate it.
However while the Sena finds its lot being poached upon by other parties, the BJP has lured NCP leaders like MLC Sanjaykaka Patil, Kapil Patil and Dr Heena Gavit to run as its nominees from Sangli, Bhiwandi and Nandurbar.
Ridiculing Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi for his statement that the party would net over 200 seats, the Shiv Sena said the "shocking" statement would have taken even his mother and Congress president Sonia Gandhi aback.
An editorial in the Sena mouthpiece Saamna, which has Uddhav as the editor, said the Congress would find it tough to get even 100 seats and claimed that the BJP led NDA would surely get 275 seats. The editorial also referred to how Congress leaders like Manish Tiwari were trying to stay out of the poll race.