The saffron allies, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena, who share power in the state and the Centre, may be on a collision course in the two upcoming civic polls -- Kalyan and Kolhapur.
The elections to the Kalyan-Dombivli Municipal Corporation (KDMC) and Kolhapur Municipal Corporation on November 1 are likely to witness a fierce battle between the allies. Of the two cities, the twin-city of Kalyan-Dombivli is seen as a bastion of the Sena-BJP, with the two parties jointly ruling it for more than a decade.
The elections are seen as a precursor to the prestigious Mumbai civic polls in 2017, where the Sena and BJP are expected to engage in a no-holds-barred electoral battle to run the country’s financial capital. The BJP has already launched an offensive against the Sena in the Mumbai civic body, by cornering its alliance partner over issues such as the nullah-cleaning scam. The relations between the Sena and the BJP have been frosty since the 2014 Assembly polls, with the BJP’s ambitions of expanding base in Maharashtra hurting the ally.
While, so far, the allies have not officially confirmed that they will be parting ways, sources in both the parties have indicated that a solo fight is likely.
For the ruling BJP, the Kolhapur as well as the Kalyan polls are test cases, where the party has traditionally not ruled alone and is keen on testing the waters. For the Sena, retaining control over Kalyan and expanding its base in Kolhapur is crucial to its future.
The decision over Kolhapur has been mostly finalised, with the BJP tying up with a local outfit, Tara Rani Aghadi, indicating a split with the Sena. In Kalyan, too, the party is preparing in full swing to go solo, even as last minute talks are being held with the Sena.
“We have given local party functionaries decisive powers. From the state level, we have sent a message that they should try and forge an alliance, but if they feel the party can fight the elections on its own, then we will go with it. They will convey their decision to us on Tuesday,” said Raosaheb Danve, state BJP president.
Sena senior leader and MP Anil Desai said the party is in talks with the BJP for Kalyan polls. “We are exploring the possibility of an alliance and are definitely open to the idea. We are in talks with the BJP.” Sources, however, admit the party does not trust the BJP and has started exploring options beyond it.
There are also murmurs about the Sena fiddling with the idea of tying up with the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), which is the second largest party in the KDMC. “Certain local leaders have been floating the idea. However, party leadership is not very keen because a pre-poll alliance would mean giving the MNS a lease of life. A post-poll tie-up can’t be ruled out though,” said a party leader.
On Kolhapur polls, a senior Sena leader told HT if the BJP snapped ties with the local outfit, it was willing to ally with the party for the elections.
Both these cities are likely to see a multi-cornered fight with the two main alliances – the Sena, BJP and Congress, NCP - in the state likely to fight solo. Currently, the Congress-NCP alliance rules Kolhapur, while the Shiv Sena has retained control over Kalyan.
Local leaders, Sena minister and guardian minister of Thane district, Eknath Shinde, and BJP MP Kapil Patil are holding talks on behalf of their parties for a possible alliance in Kalyan.
Meanwhile, KDMC commissioner E Ravindran has asked political parties and candidates to follow the election code of conduct and avoid violations. Around 122 wards from KDMC will go to polls on November 1, which also includes the 27 villages which were recently added to the civic body by the state government. “Three separate teams have been formed to look at code of conduct violations. Candidates are supposed to fill up their nomination forms and affidavit online. Whether the code of conduct would be levied on social media use by the political party or candidates has not been specified, however action will be taken according to the guidelines” said Ravindran.