The Shiv Sena sent out strong signals on Thursday that the party might end its 20-year-old alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the country’s richest civic body, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray told senior party leaders to prepare to contest all polls on their own strength, instead of being dependent on others.
Sources said Thackeray’s message to the Sena leaders, in a meeting at his residence — Matoshree — was that the Shiv Sena’s final battle is with its own friend, and if it wins this one, ‘the party will emerge all-powerful. He further said that in the party’s 50-year history, the Sena has always fought against everyone, be it the Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), or its allies and traitors – a veiled reference to the BJP – and is capable of securing a win all by itself.
“Uddhavsaheb cited examples of regional parties headed by Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu, Lalu Prasad in Bihar and Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal and pointed out how they could win their states contesting solo. He even cited the example of Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik, who snapped ties with the BJP and led his party to victory in the Assembly elections there,” said a senior Sena leader.
“Although there is no definitive decision yet about an alliance for the Mumbai civic elections, he has told us to be prepared to fight it out alone. He made it clear that if the BJP wants an alliance for Mumbai, the party should approach us. We won’t go with a begging bowl.”
To test the waters, Sena has already drawn up its election strategy and is planning to contest elections to 212 municipal councils and nagar panchayats – scheduled from November 27 to December 8 – alone without a tie-up with the BJP, Sena leaders said. The polls for 4,750 seats, followed by elections to ten municipal corporations, including the cash-rich BMC, are expected to present a clear picture of where every party currently stands in Maharashtra. The elections will also give an inkling of whether the BJP, which came to power in the state with a resounding majority, still enjoys the same popularity.
Another Shiv Sena leader said, “All party leaders present at the meeting agreed that the BJP is trying to overpower regional parties at the local level, and does not treat the Shiv Sena as an equal partner.” He added that Thackeray also expressed his displeasure about the BJP not consulting the Shiv Sena for nominations to the state legislative council, for which biennial elections are scheduled for six seats in November.
This entire week, the Sena chief has been visiting the party’s shakhas, its local administrative units, across Mumbai, speaking to its ‘foot-soldiers’ and among other things, reviewing the party’s preparedness to fight the BMC elections solo. At the party’s annual Dussehra rally, too, Thackeray hinted that the Sena will concede to an alliance only if it gets the “upper hand”.
Senior BJP leaders, however, dismissed the Sena chief’s missive to the party’s senior leaders as a bargaining tactic.
The Sena-BJP alliance has been at the helm of BMC for the past 20 years, with the Shiv Sena being the senior partner. However, future of the alliance is now under question with the BJP looking to aggressively expand in Mumbai, the Sena’s home turf. Local Sena and BJP leaders have been sparring in the open, with the latter accusing the Shiv Sena of massive corruption in the BMC, and BJP MP Kirit Somaiya going as far as saying that his party will contest all 227 seats in the civic polls.
A rupture in the Sena-BJP alliance may have a direct effect on the city’s administration, as the two parties, which were until now working in unison in the civic body, will take different political stands in decision-making. If the relations between the allies keep worsening, it will even affect the stability of the Devendra Fadnavis-led government in the state. Besides, it will also clearly demarcate boundaries of voters and redefine the two parties’ strongholds in Mumbai.
“Pure BJP voters were never happy with the Shiv Sena. It was a political compulsion for them to vote for the Shiv Sena until now, with the two parties being in alliance. A split will force a clear deliberation in the boundaries of their voters,” said Surendra Jondhale, who heads the Mumbai University’s department of civics and politics.
He added that Uddhav Thackeray is playing assertive politics, trying to establish that in Mumbai, it is the Shiv Sena that dictates terms, with an eye on the 2019 state Assembly elections.
“At the state level, the Shiv Sena has been reduced to playing the second fiddle. It is important for Thackeray to establish Shiv Sena’s control to show that it is still a force to reckon with,” Jondhale said.