For BJP, real challenges in Maharashtra will emerge after poll

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When Shiv Sena patriarch Balasaheb Thackeray died in November 2012 and with the next generation of Thackerays refusing to come closer, it looked as if the Sena went past its prime. But politics, much like cricket, is a game of uncertainty and it was evident on June 3, 2014, when top BJP leader from Maharashtra Gopinath Munde died in a car accident in New Delhi just weeks after being sworn in as a Union minister in the government of Narendra Modi.

According to political analysts, it's advantage Sena now for the BJP would have a herculean task to prepare for the upcoming assembly elections in Maharashtra without Munde. How quickly the game of politics changes, even between the allies.

Can the BJP overcome this setback any time soon?

The party's next best bet now is Nitin Gadkari, the former BJP president and currently a Union minister. But unlike late Munde, Gadkari has no mass base and won his first popular election just last month. The way Munde had neutralised the influence of a powerful politician like Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra and saw the rise of Shiv Sena-BJP alliance in power in the mid-1990s is something not many would expect from a Gadkari. Devendra Phadnavis, the BJP state president, is another face of the party in the state but he, too, lacks the pan-Maharashtra appeal. In fact, there is no second leader of the BJP at the moment who can match the appeal of Munde across a politically diverse state like Maharashtra.

The BJP's first task will be to rework in its position on Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray as the chief ministerial candidate [Read: Uddhav will be CM candidate]. Now with its best man not in the picture anymore, the BJP will not be in a strong position to make a deal with the Sena on the CM candidate. It will be playing a more soft role, trying to convey to the Sena that it had made a big gain in the recently concluded Lok Sabha election by riding on the Narendra Modi wave. This could be a strategy to revise the seat-sharing formula, even if the decision on the CM candidate would have been settled.

Another strategy could be to project Pankaja as the face of campaigning for the assembly election and keep the Sena under pressure. But this strategy could be more self-defeating for the BJP for the top leadership wouldn't want the world to conclude that the happy family of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) post May 16 is developing wide cracks.

The BJP's actual problems will not end with the polls. The sympathy for Munde will help it in the upcoming election no matter whom it projects as its face but the challenge for the BJP will be to match the organisational and political skills that Munde had over the next few years.

Two of the biggest challenges for the BJP in the post-Munde period will be: One, to tackle the Nationalist Congress Party's renewed efforts to stretch its influence in the Marathawada region and two, to ensure the six-party saffron alliance that Munde had helped in forging in Maharashtra, survives. Gadkari has not succeeded in this regard and even saw earned the Shiv Sena's wrath before the Lok Sabha poll by trying to enter a deal with the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).

The two Senas will try to score political points (whatever little he does in the Lok Sabha election, MNS chief Raj Thackeray is a force to reckon in state politics of Maharashtra) in the next assembly election. While the Shiv Sena will be bolstered by its good show in the Lok Sabha election, Raj will be looking forward to script a change in his party's electoral fate and the BJP will be in the greatest danger of losing ground in the state.

The BJP has tough days ahead in the crucial state of Maharashtra, particularly after the polls. The Congress had struggled in undivided Andhra Pradesh after the death of YS Rajasekhara Reddy. Can Narendra Modi play the game differently in Maharashtra?

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