There can be no greater admission of the fact that there is really no Narendra Modi wave in the country than the attempt by former BJP president Nitin Gadkari to woo Raj Thackeray at this late hour and win him over to the saffron side this election.
I was surprised to see the party scraping the bottom of the barrel for alliances with the Lok Janshakti Party in Bihar and the DMK in Tamil Nadu because both these parties are on a losing wicket. I am amazed that the BJP has so little confidence in the so-called overwhelming personality of its prime ministerial candidate that it should jeopardise a possible post-poll tie-up with the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu and show such scant regard for the sensitivities of its long-time all-weather friend, the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, by wooing its greatest enemy Raj Thackeray so brazenly.
But while it has to be acknowledged that these might not be Modi’s moves, it goes without saying that asking Raj Thackeray not to put up candidates in the Lok Sabha polls to avoid a split in the Sena-BJP’s votes is akin to shouting from the rooftops that there is a lack of confidence in the saffron alliance about sweeping 40 out of the 48 seats they have been saying they will win in these elections.
Although the Shiv Sena has been in a lasting alliance with the BJP for nearly three decades now, it is clear there is no love lost between the new generation of BJP and Sena leaders. Gadkari has always spoken privately (but quite openly) about how little he thinks of Uddhav Thackeray’s political skills and has avowed many times that Raj is the one that the BJP should really be looking to for a future alliance. The BJP stays with the Sena only for what it can benefit from the party and not what it could give to its junior partner — in 2009 then prime ministerial candidate LK Advani stopped the BJP’s GenNext from severing ties with the Sena in order not to jeopardise his own chances. Now clearly the Sena after Bal Thackeray seems less of a winner than Raj to the BJP and it is Modi’s ambitions that must now be bolstered.
However, in the eight years of its existence, I do not see much progress in the MNS — there is not a single leader in the party apart from Raj Thackeray that one can write home about; the party has simply run out of issues and since it cannot get away with beating up either Muslims or Uttar Bharatiyas any longer, it is now targeting toll workers on the highways and – dare I say it — just survives by coming to arrangements with various political parties, most particularly the ruling Congress in Maharashtra.
Then, again, the MNS is now so clearly associated with its anti-North Indian agitation of the recent past that I wonder how the BJP’s core voters in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar will react to a potential tie-up with Raj Thackeray. I recall when the Sena-BJP came to power in 1995 in Maharashtra and Bal Thackeray threatened to deny ration cards to Uttar Bharatiyas, BJP general secretary Pramod Mahajan had to twist the Sena tiger’s arms to get him to retract – the party’s voters in the Hindi heartland who had loads of relatives living and working in Bombay had taken exception and threatened to transfer their allegiance to other political parties in those states.
I, therefore, see little benefit to the BJP in this move – for Raj is unlikely to withdraw from the Lok Sabha race which can only be detrimental to his interests. But I smell a fixed match here: neither Gadkari nor his party seniors would be foolish enough to make such a move without some shrewd calculations. As I see it, it can only be to subtly reduce Modi’s numbers without seeming to do so.
The only gainer in this game then is Raj Thackeray. His stock just went up with those he is purported to be helping in these polls. And Gadkari, denied his own ambitions last year, could be killing two birds with one stone.