Asking his legislators and party men to gear up for a tough battle in the state assembly polls, Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray has asked them not to take the saffron alliance's landslide victory and huge margins in the Lok Sabha elections for granted.
In a meeting with party MLAs on Monday, Uddhav also asked legislators to focus on their constituencies and build the organisation in neighbouring seats from where the Sena contests. The Shiv Sena has 46 MLAs in the state legislative assembly, including one independent, while its ally, the BJP, has 47.
"We were asked to get down to work in our constituencies. Also, we have also been asked to shoulder the responsibility of a neighbouring constituency," said a Shiv Sena MLA.
He added that in the region-wise assessment, Uddhav had asked them not to take the Lok Sabha poll victory – which saw saffron alliance candidates win against Congress and NCP stalwarts like PWD minister Chhagan Bhujbal and union ministers Praful Patel and Manikrao Gavit with huge margins – for granted.
Shiv Sena and BJP leaders admit that it was not practical to expect the wave in favour of PM Narendra Modi, which saw the five-party Mahayuti swept 42 of Maharashtra's 48 seats and lead over the ruling dispensation in 243 of 288 assembly segments, to be replicated exactly in the assembly elections due to the changed context, unless Modi campaigned extensively.
The Sena MLA quoted Uddhav as saying that the Lok Sabha results were akin to a "balloon" which should not be taken for granted by legislators. "We have been asked not to run after it and work for our constituents. We have also been asked to keep a realistic outlook," he said, adding that however, they expected the Lok Sabha results to add some wind in their sails.
"The people are tired of the Congress-NCP led state government," said the Sena legislator, adding that while anti-incumbency was huge, voters also had massive expectations from the Modi-led dispensation.
Another Sena MLA said that party leaders would also fan out in the state on election tours. "The atmosphere created in the Lok Sabha polls will benefit us to some extent, though we cannot expect expect a landslide victory... due to factors like the (Raj Thackeray led) MNS contesting more seats than it did for the Lok Sabha. But the attraction for Modi still persists in voters," he noted, adding that the Sena was also banking on its strong grassroots network to see it through.
However, the Lok Sabha sweep has led to the BJP shedding its underdog status in the alliance for edging out the Sena to acquire the status of the dominant partner, though it has been impacted by the death of senior leader and Union minister Gopinath Munde.
The BJP is seeking a hike in the number of seats allocated to it. In 2009, the Sena contested 169 seats and the BJP fought from 119. This time, the saffron allies will also have to accommodate allies like Ramdas Athavale's RPI (A), farmer leader and MP Raju Shetti's Swabhimaani Paksha, Mahadeo Jankar's Rashtriya Samaj Paksha (RSP) and NPC MLC Vinayak Mete, whose Shivasangram outfit has joined forces with them, which may complicate things. The Mahayuti may not formally project a chief ministerial candidate unlike Modi's presidential-style Lok Sabha pitch.