Uddhav and Aditya Thackeray at the rally at Mahalaxmi Racecourse on September 27
After being seemingly caught unawares by the end of its alliance with the BJP, the Shiv Sena has made a near-miraculous recovery, if its leaders are to be believed.
While other parties were struggling with defections, rejection of nomination forms and the all-important question of finding candidates for all 288 assembly seats in the state, the Sena managed to field 286 candidates within two days of the end of the alliance, with zero rejections.
And, despite Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray attacking the BJP over the deadlock and the split at his Mahalaxmi rally on September 27, spewing anti-BJP vitriol is not going to be the Sena's sole agenda for seeking votes, Anil Desai, a Rajya Sabha MP and key member of Uddhav's team, told mid-day. "The Congress-NCP misrule has relegated the state to the sixth position and we want to focus on that," said Mr Desai.
Beginning in Parbhani, the party's bastion in Marathwada, today, Mr Uddhav is set to go on a whirlwind campaign tour, addressing 50 rallies in various parts of the state before the last day of campaigning on October 13.
Matching him step for step will be his son Aditya, who will also hold an equal number of rallies and road shows wherever possible. The 100-odd appearances by the father-son duo indicates that the Sena is going all out to woo voters and ensure it comes to power.Crisis management
With the Sena-BJP and Cong-NCP alliances having been around for a long time, no party in the state had contested more than 174 seats in Maharashtra for many years now. Thus, after the alliances ended on September 25, all the parties were struggling to find candidates for 288 seats before the last date for filing nominations on September 27.
In the melee, many parties also ended up losing out on contesting certain seats because the candidates' forms were rejected. This did not, however, happen to the Sena. Having fielded 286 candidates, the party decided to support Gopinath Munde's daughter Pankaja at Parli and controversial figure Arun Gawli's daughter Geeta for the Byculla seat.
"Credit for this goes to the homework done by the Sena's crisis management team. No nomination form filed by a Sena candidate has been rejected and we do not face any problem of rebellion also. We have been able to convince Anant Tare, who had filed his nomination against Sena MLA Eknath Shinde from Kopri," said Mr Desai.CM dilemma
Asked about the seat-sharing issue, Mr Desai, who played a crucial role in the deliberations, rejected allegations that the alliance with the BJP ended because of the tussle over the CM's post.
"Anyway, there was nothing wrong when we said that the nation should be led by PM Narendra Modi and the reins of the state should be in Uddhav's hands. We wanted an upper hand in the state as we are a regional party with a state-wide base," he said.
"Which alliance partner has ever parted with 18 seats in the history of national politics?" was Desai's contention, adding that BJP was asking for a seat from Thane as well as Guhagar in Ratnagiri district without exchanging any other seat.
"They said we need Thane as we don't have any base there. But how could we do that when we fight just one seat in Beed and Nagpur city, leaving the rest for the BJP. Also two-three seats from east Vidarbha were with them," he said.
Asked about talk of a Marathi-Gujarati divide, Mr Desai said people in Mumbai and elsewhere want peace and claimed voters always back the Shiv Sena with larger interests in mind.
"We don't see any such possibility (of a divide). Ours is a progressive state and people want it to continue to be that way. We are going to get a majority, as people want the Shiv Sena to rule the State," said Mr Desai.