The results to the Brihanumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections might not have been quite to Uddhav Thackeray’s expectations, but it is becoming increasingly clear the Shiv Sena president is not giving up just yet. He is determined his party will elect a mayor and if he is looking towards the Congress, I do not find anything peculiar in this delicious situation where every party is caught between a rock and a very hard place.
The Sena, after all, is a creature of the Congress, set up as it was in the 1960s by khadi-clad, Gandhi-topi donning stalwarts of the freedom movement, simply because they and some industrialists — who then funded Bal Thackeray — wished to rid the city of the communists and their troublesome trade unions.
As Bombay has gone from a manufacturing and textile hub of those days to a city specialising in banking and financial services, however thin the Sena’s victory margin, the city continues to be owned by Bal Thackeray’s party. And an unabashed Saamna continues to hammer the BJP — this time, in response to chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’s statement that his party would never take the support of the Congress to win the mayoral polls. The paper has snapped back, “Better to ally with the Congress, than the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) of Kashmir who are supporters of Afzal Guru.’’
The Congress should have found comfort in that statement, but it is now caught additionally in a situation where it is damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t . Dismal as its performance has been (with just 31 seats in the BMC), it is the only party with enough numbers to ensure a mayoral victory for either side. But much as it might like to deal with the Shiv Sena, it cannot afford to jeopardise its secular credentials — though its arrangement with the Sena in the Raigad zilla parshad (ZP) polls wherein posters of Sonia Gandhi and Bal Thackeray appeared on the same page have already cost its reputation a good deal. But now voting against the Shiv Sena would clearly be akin to voting with the BJP and an abstention would be seen as helping the Shiv Sena which is already busy gathering its numbers from among independents and others. So it must put up its own mayoral candidate when everybody knows it is nothing but a rump in the BMC. But that is how, probably, the party will help out its old friend, though how many will be fooled by this farce is not a tough question to answer.
Over the past few days I have been asked why the BJP is not able to snap up the Independents as the Sena seems to be doing. I guess that is because they have mopped up the maximum numbers of corporators they could before the polls — they poached from all political parties including the Congress and the Shiv Sena – and those remaining were simply not interested for various reasons in allying with the BJP.
Moreover, after these polls, Uddhav Thackeray has emerged as the leader of the most consequence in Maharashtra — he is his own man, serious and determined, unlike his cousin Raj Thackeray who messed up a great mandate in the early years of his party, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, because he failed to understand that politics was not just about playing one against the other. Then, again, Uddhav now dwarfs even leaders like Ajit Pawar and Supriya Sule who have to play second fiddle to Sharad Pawar, who himself is waning in influence. The Congress has only Ashok Chavan, but shackled as he is by the Adarsh case, he is virtually invisible. And Fadnavis is regarded as a mere yes-man of his party high command.
That gives Uddhav a great edge over all other leaders in Maharashtra and he is likely to find more traction among the independents, though with administrative powers at his disposal, Fadnavis could make many more promises to the independents. How far he succeeds remains to be seen.
So what happens now? My guess is they will remain allies in the State government though for a time they will have to keep their distance in the BMC if they wish to maintain the confidence of the people in their respective positions. There has been too much bitter acrimony and malice during the polls for them to kiss and make up so soon, if ever. For they win more seats fighting each other than when united. It clearly pays to keep the enmity going.