Less than six months to elections to the Brihnmumbai Municipal Corporation, it is becoming apparent by the day that the BJP and the Shiv Sena might not be of a mind to go to these polls together.
Late last week, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis tickled his audiences pink by resorting to Bhojpuri to woo North Indians in the suburbs who are a substantial part of voters (28 per cent) in the metropolis. Though Bhojpuri might not be the language that all North Indians of the city understand – there are as many dialects as there are regions of North India from where they have migrated – his Bollywood ditty aimed at wooing them did have its impact – people were quite taken aback when Fadnavis said his answer to queries by North Indians about their place in Maharashtra always was, “Nazar ke saamne, jigar ke paas tum rehte ho…’’
He went on to list the contributions of various North Indians – this time those from Uttar Pradesh and not just Bhojpuri speakers from Bihar – starting from Lord Rama passing through parts of the state and immortalising his resting places like Panchvati near Nasik and Ramtek near Nagpur and, of course, Brahmins from Benares who conducted Shivaji’s coronation when those from Maharashtra refused to do so.
Fadnavis, however, can get away by saying that the Uttar Bharatiyas were always welcome to Maharashtra only in the event that his party does not ally with the Shiv Sena at the BMC polls. For such a welcoming attitude has not always been the case. Almost the first thing that Sena supremo Bal Thackeray had said in 1995 when the two parties came to power together for the first time in the state was that North Indian migrants would be very unwelcome in Maharashtra, they would not be given ration cards and they would have to seek special work permits if they wanted employment in the city.
I remember that blew the Uttar Bharatiyas out of their minds -- and out of the BJP’s fold in the North Indian states. For almost every North Indian settler in the state had loads of relatives living back home and Thackeray’s anti-North Indian stance instantly alienated many of these core voters of the BJP from the party. Both Lalu Prasad Yadav of Bihar and Mulayam Singh Yadav of Uttar Pradesh were quick to take advantage of that alienation and the BJP in that decade found it an uphill task to woo them back to its fold. It led to the strange phenomenon of the same North Indians voting differently in Maharashtra (for the Congress) and the north Indian states (for the regional parties). Despite then BJP general secretary Pramod Mahajan’s best efforts to woo them back to the BJP, they remained alienated from the party for long years until 2014 changed the equations back again in their favour.
So while Fadnavis was wooing the North Indians not just for the BMC but also with elections to the UP assembly in mind, for the Shiv Sena it might be too late and even futile to make amends with Uttar Bharatiyas. They have been consistently targeting the community and there is nothing they may do now – including serenade the community with their own Bollywood ditties – that will persuade them of the Shiv Sena’s sincerity. But that does not seem to be stopping the Sena from trying with at least some other communities who have been a part of the metropolis longer than the Sena’s existence – those first migrants and long time settlers from the neighbouring state of Gujarat. There has been much bitterness between the Sena and the Gujarati community since the days of former Chief Minister (and later Prime Minister) Morarji Desai. Of late there has been intense polarisation between Gujaratis and Maharashtrians in the metropolis but now there is a growing sense that the community may be seeking to make its peace with the Sena. So the Sena, too, has extended its olive branch by wooing Gujaratis in their own language – for the first time ever they have printed posters in Gujarati startling old timers who never knew the party to woo any one but Maharashtrians.
But the Sena needs all the help it can get if it has to go alone to the polls. It might as well make a start by denting the BJP’s support base among this community -- it seems to have burnt its bridges with almost everybody else in the metropolis.