Despite all the mudslinging and criticism of each other over the past two years, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena have decided to hold talks for an alliance in the polls for the country’s richest civic body, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). The primary reason for the talks to be back on the table is the top leaders — chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray — of the saffron allies.
So why are Fadnavis and Thackeray looking at breaking bread together in the BMC polls and, if possible, even across the state in the upcoming elections?
Sources in both the parties said that the leaders are erring on the side of caution to give the tie-up talks a shot. The focus is 2019 Assembly polls and the remaining two-and-half-year term of the government, said sources.
Another reason for the parties to stick together is that they will be solely responsible for the outcome of the polls.
“If Fadnavis has to complete his term and prepare favourable ground for the BJP in the 2019 Assembly polls, he needs stability. That will be difficult, if ally Sena [whose numbers are essential to run the government] ups the ante and targets the BJP and the government even more aggressively post-civic polls,” said a senior BJP leader, who is privy to discussion in the party on the alliance. “The Sena could take such a stance if the bitterness during these polls worsens, as is likely if they contest separately, and win or lose lead in the BMC.”
The BJP leader said the party’s real test will be in 2019, when it will have to fight on the basis of its performance and not just Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charisma.
Also, Fadnavis is currently at the top of his game, after the party’s good show in the municipal council polls. But if the party does not do well, he has the most to lose. An electoral loss will help the CM’s rivals to regroup and strengthen their position in the party.
An alliance at the BMC and the state level will help Fadnavis and Thackeray to minimise their losses before the real battle.
Another senior BJP functionary told HT the CM has made it clear that an alliance will be stitched up only on the party’s terms and recognising its strengths post-2014.
One more reason that may work in favour of an alliance is the political arithmetic.
For instance, in Mumbai, the BJP’s assessment shows that the Marathi voter is unlikely to leave the Sena and the party can further make inroads into the MNS vote bank of 2012. MNS had won 28 seats in the 2012 civic polls and is unlikely to keep that advantage. Significantly, the Sena snatched 5 out of 6 seats from the MNS in the 2014 Assembly elections. The non-Marathi vote bank, however, will be split between the Congress and the BJP. The party does not want to take a chance with the anti-demonetisation impact, if any, in Mumbai.
BJP’s target in the BMC polls is 80 seats, although insiders admit that 65 seats is more of an achievable target. For the Sena, the big worry is loss of its citadel and hence the party chief, it is learnt, may even concede to the BJP 105 seats of the 227 member civic house. Losing dominance in the BMC could further lower morale of the party and affect Uddhav’s authority.
If the parties come together in Mumbai, a clean sweep is within reach, and the same could be possible in a majority of the ten corporations that will go to polls. In the district council polls, the saffron allies can give Congress-NCP a good fight and improve their tally if they come together.
The Sena had lost out most in the recent municipal council polls and a state-wide tie up could give it an advantage.
BJP’s senior leaders, such as state chief Raosaheb Danve, city chief Ashish Shelar, MP Kirit Somaiya are, however, against an alliance and have pointed out that this is the only time the party has to expand its base.
“We also want to avoid escalation of a war as far as possible with poaching, them trying to break away our local units, etc. Uddhav also has good equation with Fadnavis. The only sticking point for the alliance will be the demonetisation decision, where so far, we have taken a stand against the PM,” said a senior Sena leader.
Despite the intent showed by Fadnavis and Thackeray, the talks, however, can fizzle out. A majority in the BJP are counting on this.