Since the oldest traditional allies in the state, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena, are seemingly sharpening their knives against each other ahead of the ensuing Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) election, the latter’s Dussehra rally at Shivaji Park on Tuesday has assumed a special significance. Political watchers, potential voters, as well as the Shiv Sena’s foot-soldiers are looking expectantly at Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray to spell out the party’s agenda into the polls, especially in relation with its bitter-sweet ally.
The election to the country’s richest civic body is less than four months away and both the Sena and the BJP, that have ruled the BMC in an alliance for about three decades, are looking to expand their presence in the city, raising questions on the future of the alliance. Incidently, this time the party’s Dussehra rally will celebrate its 50th year at the Shivaji Park as Maharashtra’s fiery regional party first roared at the park on Dussehra in 1966 and set the annual rally as a culture.
“All our eyes are on what our chief says because that will define the party’s position going into polls. It is in the Sena’s tradition to wait for our leader’s ‘aadesh’ (orders) and once we get it, we will do everything in our might to fulfil it. But, his direction is very important before we act or react,” said Pandurang Sakpal, a Shiv Sena leader from South Mumbai.
The BJP, which had cut the Sena to size in the 2014 assembly elections and stamped its big-brother status in the alliance, is now aggressively looking to expand within Mumbai, the Sena’s home turf. Even as the top leadership of both parties has remained silent so far on the future of the alliance, relations between the allies have grown choppier with BJP’s Mumbai-based leaders, Ashish Shelar and Kirit Somaiya, exchanging barbs with local Sena leaders. BJP leaders have also hinted that the party may opt for an alliance only if it gets to contest on about 100 of the total 227 seats, up from the 72 it had contested on in the 2012 polls.
Sakpal added, “When it comes to the Mumbai elections, the Shiv Sena’s stand will not depend on what the BJP thinks or wants. Shiv Sena is Mumbai, and a major part of Mumbai’s identity is Shiv Sena.”
To the same tune, a senior Sena functionary said, “It is expected that the Shiv Sena will give a befitting reply to certain elements in the BJP, such as Shelar and Somaiya. The Sena chief is likely to say that the party will be willing for an alliance if it is given its due respect. It is too early to talk in terms of numbers, but the Dussehra rally will remind everyone that the BJP’s might in Mumbai comes only because of the Shiv Sena.”
He added that the recent exercise of redrawing Mumbai’s electoral map has also given Shiv Sena an upper hand. While the ward delimitation has also benefited the BJP to a certain extent, most of the Shiv Sena’s bastions have been left untouched, while some of its strongholds have seen an increase in the number of wards, positioning the party to target more seats.
Besides giving direction to the party cadre on the upcoming BMC polls, Thackeray is also likely to salvage some of the damage caused by the recent cartoon controversy to the party. The publication of a cartoon lampooning the ongoing Maratha protests in Sena’s mouthpiece Saamana had irked the Maratha community and politically isolated the party, drawing the party into caste politics and prompting Thackeray to apologise for the row.