In a symbolic gesture to woo the ‘Marathi manoos’ — the voterbase of its ally-turned-rival, Shiv Sena — the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Sunday officially kick-started its campaign for the Mumbai civic polls by making all its candidates pay tributes at the Hutatma Chowk memorial for martyrs of the United Maharashtra movement in south Mumbai.
The candidates then went on to take an oath of ‘transparency’, promising to ensure corruption-free governance in the country’s richest civic body, making it clear this would be its core agenda. The candidates also promised to make public their assets every year once elected to the civic body.
And just as the party flagged off its campaign, BJP city unit chief Ashish Shelar, in his address, alleged the Sena and the Congress had teamed up together with an agenda to defeat the BJP. Shelar said there were at least 42 wards in the seat where such ‘match fixing’ had happened.
“I have studied the list of both the parties after a Congress worker joined the BJP complaining of her ticket being cancelled at the last minute. I found out that at least in 42 wards, both these parties have done match fixing. Wherever Sena is weak, a candidate has been fielded to help the Congress and vice versa,’’ said Shelar. Without taking names, he alleged the Sena had reached out to Congress city chief Sanjay Nirupam, a former Shiv Sainik, for such an arrangement.
He said such a move was a betrayal of Mumbai and the sophisticated and ‘cultured’ Marathi voter, who knows the BJP, would not fall prey to it.
The BJP’s deference to the memorial for the martyrs of the Samyukta Maharashtra or the United Maharashtra movement of the 1960s ahead of elections can be seen as political expediency ahead of the polls. The party’s policy to support smaller states, including a separate ‘Vidarbha’, is at cross purposes with United Maharashtra stand that the Sena has always aggressively supported.
Sources in the party admit that given that Mumbai is at stake, this is a bid to walk the tightrope to ensure Marathi manoos is not alienated from the BJP. The party is hoping to corner a majority of non-Marathi votes, but at the same time it will have to make dent in the Marathi core base of the Sena to take the lead in the polls. The Sena, by giving nearly 85% of its seats to Marathi manoos, has tried to secure its core support base.
The BJP’s worry is the Sena in the future will make this more aggressively as a fight between Marathi versus non-Marathi voters. Indicating as much, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray at a rally in the evening, said if the BJP was really sincere, it should take a public oath to support United Maharashtra.
Meanwhile, Shelar, in a series of rhetorical questions, also pointed out the reason the Sena had broken the alliance was because the BJP’s transparent agenda made it uncomfortable. He asked whether the Sena had split from the alliance because the BJP had put corrupt contractors in the BMC behind bars, initiated a probe into dumping ground or road scam or because Prime Minister Modi went against black money hoarders.