Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray sounded dead serious when he pulled up the BJP’s state top brass for violating the coalition dharma at the national executive meeting on Sunday. While a clearer picture will emerge in a day or two, the party has started preparing to face elections on October 15 with or without its 25-year-old ally, either on 151 seats or on all 288. Either way, he is confident of winning.
This is the first state election for Uddhav after his father’s demise, and he needs to prove himself, for his party’s survival. He cannot let the BJP walk away with equal or more seats, as it would mean sacrificing the chief minister’s post. With the Lok Sabha results still fresh in his memory, Uddhav knows he is within striking distance of power, and is unwilling to waste this opportunity.
“My sainiks are my priority. And no one can take away what is in our fate. Whether the alliance stays together or breaks, I am ready to fight. Are you there with me?” Thackeray asked the spirited crowd.
Uddhav’s matter-of-fact overture to the BJP, spelling out the 151-119-18 formula, was delivered in a sharp, aggressive manner, and presented a new face of the leader, who, for the first time, displayed shades of his father, the late Bal Thackeray.
A senior Sena leader said Uddhav has prepared them mentally to face all scenarios. “We have identified strongholds and weak areas. Leaders have been deputed to find independents who can contest in areas like Nagpur, Beed, Dhule, Vardha, where our presence is poor. We are comfortable about 220 seats,” a Sena leader said. He added that the party will activate its old ties in places like Beed, where the Sena previously enjoyed a presence, before being replaced by the BJP.
The party is also emboldened by its huge following of young people, which Aaditya Thackeray has led for the past four years.
“We have three days to finalise lists and fill in forms. Uddhavji wants the seat-sharing dilemma to end soon, so that campaigning can start. Uddhavji will be leading Maharashtra from the front,” said Sena MP Anil Desai, one of Uddhav’s chief strategists.
For a party which fared miserably in 2009 and doesn’t have Bal Thackeray’s charisma, a lot is at stake. Uddhav needs his sainiks to believe him. And on Sunday, he won round one.