Mumbai, April 3: Buckling under ally Shiv Sena’s pressure, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Wednesday played safe by ejecting sitting MP Kirit Somaiya and nominating Manoj Kotak in the Mumbai North East Lok Sabha constituency.
Kotak is the BJP chief in the Shiv Sena-controlled BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and is a veteran civic political leader.
Somaiya – a two-time MP elected from here in 1999 and 2014 – paid the price for attacking the Sena leadership and once threatening to throw them behind bars.
It may be recalled that frantic discussions were on in the NDA for this constituency, with several threats issued and more than claimant.
They included Union Minister of State for Social Welfare Ramdas Athawale, who had demanded the nomination from the BJP in view of the keen tussle between the two main allies, which was reported by IANS on March 22.
Athawale’s argument was that there was a significant Dalit population in the region which comprises Mulund, Vikhroli, Bhandup, Ghatkopar and Mankhurd which could help bag the seat for his RPI(A).
However, he was rebuffed by the BJP-Sena alliance.
Initially, the Sena warned that it would “actively work” to defeat Somaiya if he was nominated, but the threat was upgraded with Vikhroli legislator Sunil Raut – brother of Sena MP Sanjay Raut – announcing he would contest as an independent from Mumbai North East.
Sensing the seriousness of the situation, the BJP decided against taking any risk by dropping Somaiya and fielding Kotak though there was speculation earlier that Railway Minister Piyush Goyal was in the race for the ticket.
The prestigious constituency has in the past elected Subramanian Swamy of Janata Party (1977, 1980), the late Jaywantiben Mehta of BJP (1989), the late Pramod Mahajan of BJP (1996) and four-times winner the late Gurudas Kamat of Congress (1984, 1991, 1998 and 2004).
The seat went to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) after the delimitation exercise of 2008 when its leader Sanjay Dina Patil wrested it from Somaiya by a narrow margin of around 3,000 votes. But riding the crest of the ‘Modi wave’ in 2014, Somaiya returned with a margin of 3.17 lakh votes.
As the bickering continued between the BJP and Sena for three weeks, Patil practically monopolized the crowds in the constituency.
Athawale’s supporters have warned that if the RPI(A) leader was denied the ticket, all Dalits in the constituency would press the NOTA button, besides the possibility of Somaiya’s supporters not cooperating with the new candidate, upsetting the BJP calculations.
With this last-minute change, the BJP has made nominations for all the 25 seats in its quota against the Sena’s 23 for the 48 parliamentary constituencies in the state.