Mumbai: The maiden electoral battle for senior Maharashtra BJP leader Vinod Tawde may not be a cakewalk as former ally Shiv Sena reportedly wants its cadre to ensure his defeat since it blames him to be one of the architects of the breakup of the 25-year-old saffron alliance.
However, the 'Narendra Modi effect' among Tawde's Borivali constituency's Gujarati and Maharashtrian Brahmin population is likely to see him through, say observers.
Tawde, who has risen from a ABVP activist to be one of the top state leaders and is among Maharashtra BJP's core group members with Chief Ministerial ambitions, chose Borivali Assembly seat in Mumbai North parliamentary constituency because Vile Parle, where he resides, was in the quota of BJP's now former ally Shiv Sena.
With an electorate of 3.24 lakh, Borivali has predominantly middle-class mixed population, including Gujaratis and Maharashtrians.
If Shiv Sena-BJP alliance had continued, Tawde would not have had to slog to enter the Assembly, observers feel.
Sena leader Vinod Ghosalkar, seeking re-election from neighbouring Dahisar Assembly seat of North Mumbai, says had the alliance stayed, Tawde would have won hands down.
"But now, he would have to work hard because Shiv Sena has given ticket to a local candidate, who is a professional (chartered accountant) and of Rajasthani origin. Borivali is a cosmopolitan area and our candidate is well known," he said.
However, Tawde, striking a balancing act by campaigning across the state as well as in Borivali, is highlighting the need to strengthen public transport.
Tawde, Leader of Opposition in state Legislative Council, also rubbished Sena's claim that he was among the BJP leaders responsible for break-up of the alliance.
"I don't want to comment on this allegation. We are focussing on appealing people to vote for the BJP just as they had done in the Lok Sabha elections," Tawde told PTI.
Shiv Sena candidate Uttam Prakash Agarwal said Borivali comprises of educated and politically aware voters and there are no predetermined notions about the area being a stronghold of any particular party.
"The organisational structure of Shiv Sena is amazing and it's because of the efforts put in by late Bal Thackeray. The Sena-BJP were in alliance for the last 25 years and Shiv Sena never got a chance to contest from this area because BJP, under Ram Naik, was flourishing here. After Ram Naik, the BJP organisation has floundered while Shiv Sena is strong and intact," he said.
When asked if he considers Tawde his main opponent, Agarwal, who was formerly with the BJP, said he is a local and resident of Borivali since the time he landed in Mumbai several years back. "I face no challenge," he claimed.
"I am in public life for the last 25 years and am known in Borivali. Professionals from different walks of life in Borivali are on a mission to get me elected. Similarly, Chartered Accountants from different parts of the country are coming to campaign for me," he said.
Agarwal said he is highlighting the Sena's vision document and wants to make Borivali an education hub. "My profession (CA) gives me the position to ensure employment to several youth," he said.
On reports that Shiv Sena has asked its followers to ensure defeat of Tawde, BJP city president Ashish Shelar in Bandra (west) and Leader of Opposition in Legislative Assembly Eknath Khadse in Muktainagar, holding them responsible for breakup of the alliance, Agarwal said, "Why only these three.. we have geared up to defeat all our opponents."
The Congress has nominated Ashok Sutrale from Borivali and MNS candidate is Nayan Kadam.
Magathane Assembly seat, which comprises areas of Borivali (East,) has a good number of population from Konkan belt. Had Tawde contested from there and put up Hemendra Mehta, a senior BJP leader and Magathane candidate, in Borivali, it would have been smooth sailing for both, said Yogesh Trivedi, a senior journalist and Borivali resident.
"Now both Mehta and Tawde will find it tough because Sena votes will go to party's own candidates," Trivedi said.
However, Srikrishna Acharya, a tax consultant and resident of Borivali for over 30 years, feels BJP has an edge over its MNS and Sena rivals because of Prime Minister Modi.
"The proposed bullet train from Mumbai to Ahmedabad and the cleanliness campaign launched on October 2 has caught their (people's) imagination," Acharya said.
Besides, two-time BJP MLA (2004 and 2009) from Borivali and now MP from Mumbai North Gopal Shetty created open spaces in the area for locals. "There are several parks and playgrounds which is the need of the hour and that has made people very happy," he said.
The Shiv Sena has no leadership in the area and several of them (workers and local leaders) migrated to MNS. The Sena organisation is not in good shape, he claimed.
Even the Konkan natives of Borivali may support Tawde because of the Konkan 'mahotsavs' he has been organising, he said.