With less than two weeks to go for the crucial Mumbai civic polls, the bitterness between allies-turned-rivals, BJP and Shiv Sena, has threatened to spill over to the state government.
In an interview with HT, Thackeray on Wednesday indicated a decision about pulling out of the government would be taken after the results of the crucial Mumbai civic polls are announced.
Just a day earlier, he agreed with party MP Sanjay Raut’s caustic assessment that after the break-up in the alliance, the state government was now on a notice period.
Late on Wednesday evening, at a campaign rally, Thackeray for the first time took on CM Devendra Fadnavis directly, calling him a “half-baked idiot” and a “liar” for comparing Mumbai’s state to Patna.
“I feel sad that we stayed with such liars and dishonest people for 25 years. And, I feel bad that I have to directly face off with such a liar. How can such people become chief minister, I wonder?’’ he said.
He said if Mumbai was indeed at a par with Patna, he would retire from politics. If not, Fadnavis should head home.
Thackeray’s retort came after Fadnavis, in his first campaign rally for the civic polls, in Mulund, took on the Sena over transparency and the claims that the civic body had ranked number 1 in the recently released Economic Survey of India. Armed with the report and reading from it, Fadnavis pointed out the BMC actually ranked 3 among all cities and had failed completely on several parameters of transparency. It ranked along with Patna on the parameter of addressing the grievances of citizens.
“Mumbai ka vikas dekho kitna hua, Patna ke sath lake khada kar diye (You have done so much for Mumbai that you have got it on par with Patna),’’ the chief minister said. He also made an example of the Mulund dumping scam to show how corruption had been shielded in the Sena reign.
“Some people did not want the Mulund dumping ground to shut, so as to allow a company to get its abnormal tipping fees…Jeeps, cars, BEST buses were shown to be carrying waste to get the fees at the cost of public money. Our government is initiating an inquiry into every corruption scam. Our one and only agenda is transparency,” Fadnavis said.
After such a display of disdain, a comeback to the benign partnership in the state looks difficult. While Fadnavis has so far insisted his government would complete the five-year term, there is little doubt that a sense of uncertainty and instability about the BJP government will now be a constant.
If the Sena walks out, the BJP will have to strike a deal with Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), a party that Fadnavis has consistently attacked over corruption, for a helping hand to keep the government stable.
Whether the threat of pulling out of the government is mere political posturing by the Sena or whether it indicates any real intent remains to be seen.
Political analysts point out a lot of these questions will be answered on February 23, with even more clarity in March after the results of Uttar Pradesh state assembly comes in.
“What happens next would depend on how the Sena fares in Mumbai and the BJP does in Uttar Pradesh. If Sena increases its seat tally in Mumbai and can cobble up a majority in the BMC without the BJP’s help, its bargaining power increases. In such a scenario, the Sena may barter for a better deal in the government or step out and support it from outside. BJP’s response to Sena’s muscle-flexing will also depend on how the party fares in the UP polls,” said Prakash Bal, political analyst.
In the BJP, there is a sentiment that while the Sena is pressurising the ally, it will not pull out of the government until late 2018, ahead of the 2019 Assembly polls.
If BJP doesn’t win UP, it is likely to opt for a compromise with the Sena rather than rock the government.
That’s one reason the BJP so far had been maintaining that while it is taking on Sena in civic polls, it is fight on the plank of transparent governance and not ideology. BJP president Amit Shah in a recent interview to a TV channel had also clarified on this terming the face off as a “Friendly match”. The Sena for one had ripped off the claim of a friendly match saying it shares nothing in common with BJP anymore and the latter is known for sticking a dagger in the back in such friendly matches.
(With inputs from Manasi Phadke)