Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti, whose agenda is to ensure the merger of Belagavi with Maharashtra, announced a week ago that it will field 101 candidates from Belagavi Lok Sabha Constituency to attract the attention of the nation towards its agenda.
At a meeting at Maratha Mandal, senior leaders asked the youth to support the cause of Marathi unity. Deepak Dalvi recalled that in the 1996 polls, the MES fielded 452 candidates. “This had attracted the attention of the whole country. Even international media houses such as BBC Radio had carried stories,” he said.
The leaders vowed to encourage 101 MES workers to file nomination papers and 1,010 supporters to second them. MES is not a national or State party and hence, only has registration and not recognition. It does not, therefore, have a permanent symbol and its members are given several symbols during different elections. They are virtually treated as Independents. They need to get the support of 10 voters in their constituency to file nomination papers, while the candidates of recognised parties need only one supporter.
Manohar Kinekar and others, who spoke at the meeting, were confident that they would cross the figure of 101. But their ambitious claims have been proven to be far from truth. Of the total 64 candidates, around 50 are said to be MES workers.
MES leaders are reticent about this. None of them was willing to be quoted. One former MLA said that the party did not have enough time to spread word among its cadre. Another cited the problem of scarcity of resources. One more leader, who has served as a corporation member in the past, suspected that the rise of Hindutva forces had dented their influence. “The young people who would join our rallies are now seen in BJP rallies. The older generation may be unhappy with us because we are divided among three groups,” he said.
A BJP leader said that they had not tried to talk to convince them to withdraw nomination papers. “We have ignored them as we thought they don’t pose any serious threat to us. They may succeed in gathering between 5,000 and 10,000 votes in all. That does not affect us,” said a BJP leader involved with the campaign. He also pointed out that the MES was a serious player in the corporation elections and not the Assembly or Lok Sabha polls.
In 2014, some MES leaders had openly campaigned for the Congress candidate Lakshmi Hebbalkar. But the people favoured the BJP. That shows that they no longer command the influence they earlier did, he said.