The BJP's retreat from the Andheri (East) Assembly bypoll is neither a political tactic nor a tactical retreat. It is a realisation that its defeat in this crucial contest will make the forthcoming battle for the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) tough for it, despite a split in the Shiv Sena.

It was certainly a loss of face for the BJP after the bravado to teach a lesson to the Uddhav Thackeray faction of the Shiv Sena. This was due to the ground level compulsion, realignment of political forces and the sympathy factor helping the Maha Vikas Agahadi (MVA) consisting of the Shiv Sena (Uddhav),the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

Besides the results of the local body polls, Panchayat Samiti chairperson cautioned the BJP that the Modi magic, Hindutva card cannot make it a pan Maharashtra party.

The BJP which is a senior partner of the chief minister Eknath Shinde faction of the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, tried hard to fight the Andheri (East) bypolls which was necessitated due the untimely death of Shiv Sena (Uddhav) MLA Ramesh Latke. The Shiv Sena (Uddhav) fielded his wife Rutuja for the bypoll.

Rutuja was an employee of the BMC but her resignation was kept pending till the last day of the nomination. The BMC accepted it only after the directive of the Bombay High Court.

But BJP, the state government and the BMC tried hard to stop Rutuja from contesting the election. As per the earlier reports the BJP wanted her to join the Shinde faction, but failed to lure her.

When the matter was before the Bombay High Court for hearing, the BMC brought to its notice about the corruption charge against her. But that too did not work. In the meantime , the Congress, the NCP backed Rutuja Latke's candidature.

Later, the Communist Party of India announced its support to the Shiv Sena (Uddhav). Even leader of the Bahujan Vanchit Agadhi Prakash Ambedkar expressed his willingness to back Rutuja Latke.

This was the first election after the regime change in Maharashtra and the split in the Shiv Sena. The BJP was determined to contest and thus fielded Murji Patel. Both the candidates of the Shiv Sena and the BJP filed their nominations by taking out impressive processions in Andheri.

Monday was the last day of withdrawal. But on the eve of the withdrawal, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray who moved closer to the BJP and was seen as an official ally of it, made an appeal to the deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis to withdraw the BJP candidate. This was being seen in the political circles as a scripted move to facilitate the BJP for the retreat.

Chief Minister Eknath Shinde remained silent ever since the Bombay HC judgement went against the BMC. The NCP chief Sharad Pawar made the similar appeal to the BJP reminding the latter how his NCP did not put up a candidate against the daughter of the BJP leader late Gopinath Munde in the Beed Lok Sabha bypoll held in 2014 after Gopinath Mundhe's death who was the cabinet minister in the Modi government .

Now, suddenly the BJP leaders are speaking of "Maharashtra's culture" of not putting up a candidate against a family member of a deceased MLA or MP. But the reality is that the MVA is becoming a serious threat to the ruling BJP and the Shinde faction combine. The MNS is now a 'friend' of the new regime that came to power by defecting from the Shiv Sena in June.

Former Maharashtra chief minister and the senior Congress leader Prathviraj Chavan said the BJP withdrew its nominee after 'smelling a defeat' in the Andheri (East) bypolls and its bearing on the coming BMC elections. "If the BJP was confident of its victory, then it would not have withdrawn its candidate," he said.

The BJP's Maharashtra in-charge C.T. Ravi said that there has been a tradition in the State to let the kin of a deceased elected representative contesting a seat be elected unopposed. "After other parties requested, we deliberated and made a decision accordingly," he claimed.

However, leaders in Uddhav's camp said the late decision of the saffron party would not recompense the mental harassment that Eknath Shinde-BJP government inflicted on Rutuja Latke.

This is also an indicator that retaining power in many parts of Maharashtra could be tricky for the ruling BJP-Eknath Shinde faction of the Shiv Sena. This has become evident from the outcome of the elections to the Panchayat Samiti chairpersons and deputy chairpersons in Nagpur district.

Nagpur is the home turf of deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis , union minister Nitin Gaddkari and the Maharashtra BJP president Chandrashekhar Bawankule besides being the national headquarters of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)

According to the reports , the BJP could not win even a single post of Panchayat Samiti chairperson and managed to secure only three seats of deputy chairperson. On the other hand, the Congress won nine out of 13 posts of chairperson and eight out of 13 posts of deputy chairperson in the district and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) secured three posts of chairperson.

The Panchayat Samiti chairperson is seen as a prospective candidate for the state Assembly in Maharashtra. The results will certainly give sleepless nights to Fadnavis, the blue eyed boy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

This is not only an electoral shock to the party but indicates the state of affairs of the BJP hoping to become a pan Maharashtra party after toppling the Uddhav Thackeray government and engineering the split in the Shiv Sena.

Vidarbha, which elects over 60 members to the Maharashtra legislative Assembly used to be the stronghold of the Congress. But the picture began changing in 90s after the BJP played Hindutva card aggressively, projected OBC faces and allied with the Shiv Sena.

But in 2019 state Assembly polls the BJP's tally came down to 29 from the 44 seats it had won in 2014 in alliance with the Shiv Sena in Vidarbha. This had helped the Congress and the NCP win 21 seats together in this region.

The setback comes at a time when Fadnavis–Bawankule are aspiring to snatch the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) from the Shiv Sena in the coming elections. The Nagpur outcome has boosted the morale of the Maha Vikas Agadhi consisting of Uddhav Thackeray's Shiv Sena, the Congress and the NCP. It has demoralised the BJP,the Shinde faction and Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).

Although, the MNS is not the BJP's official ally yet, Raj Thackeray's open appeal to Fadnavis to withdraw the BJP's candidate from the Andheri (east) Assembly bypoll against the Shiv Sena (Uddhav), is a clear indication that the BJP's defeat in this election will have a bearing on the coming BMC polls.

The Nagpur win can strengthen the unity of Maha Vikas Aghadi, and demoralise CM Eknath Shinde. It will compel the BJP central leadership to review its strategy for the premier state which has not allowed the saffron party to convert it into the Hindutva laboratory like the neighbouring Gujarat. Modi-Shah's attempts to control Maharashtra through their proxy is unlikely to work because of the strong roots of Congress on one hand and the strong regional players on the other.