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Thackeray versus Thackeray: Decisive round now?

Raj has nothing to lose and hence may go all out on his war against the Sena. On the other hand, will it be time for Uddhav to go in for the kill and finish off the MNS?

mumbai Updated: Oct 14, 2017 01:00 IST
Shailesh Gaikwad
Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray addresses a press conference at Matoshree , Bandra, on Friday.
Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray addresses a press conference at Matoshree , Bandra, on Friday. (Pramod Thakur/HT Photo)

Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s move to poach Maharashtra Navnirman Sena corporators to ensure that he retains power in the crucial Mumbai civic body has taken the Bharatiya Janata Party by surprise and shocked the MNS. Sources in the MNS say party chief Raj Thackeray had not expected his cousin to do something like this. Friday’s development is likely to spur a fresh round in the ongoing bitter war between the two estranged brothers.

So, why did Uddhav go to this extent?

Top Sena leaders say they had no option but to induct MNS corporators into their fold else the BJP would have poached them. Over the past two months, Sena leaders were in touch with few MNS corporators, including Dilip Lande who finally led the coup. They hastened the process following the Bhandup bypolls that the BJP won. After the results, BJP leaders like Kirit Somaiya and Ashish Shelar publicly threatened Sena that their days in power were numbered. It made the Sena leaders to expedite the process and get the MNS corporators to join the party. As six out of 7 MNS corporators decided to defect to the Sena, the party’s leaders handling their entry thought they did not need to form a separate group and instead got them to join the party directly. “It was just a matter of time before the BJP would have approached them. With six corporators joining them, even the independentssupporting us would have shifted allegiance and BJP would have wrested control of the BMC from us,’ said a Sena leader.

The defection episode is not over yet. The MNS is challenging the defection and the Divisional Commissioner (Konkan) who is an authority to decide on defection is yet to give his ruling. If the defection is clear, the Sena will have a better grip on the civic house. It won’t have to worry about convincing the BJP before taking any major decision. A lot also depends on CM Devendra Fadnavis—whether he wants a bitter fight with the Sena.

Though it looks like the MNS has become a collateral damage in the war between Sena and BJP, there could be more to it.

Uddhav anticipated trouble by the BJP to wrest control of BMC at some point. On the other hand, Raj’s protest march following Elphinstone Road stampede was an indication that he would become more active in the coming days. There were speculations that Raj would be getting tacit support of the BJP because a strong MNS would weaken the Sena in the coming elections as happened in the 2009 polls. The two parties share the same voter base. As such, Uddhav moved first to pre-empt any damage, say his aides. The move now sends a message to his voters that the MNS is no more a factor in Mumbai. The MNS has limited presence beyond Mumbai.

However, this may be counter-productive: A wounded Raj is likely to become more aggressive now and target the Sena.

The war between the Thackeray cousins is likely to take a fresh turn. At this stage, Raj has nothing to lose and hence may go all out on his war against the Sena. On the other hand, will it be time for Uddhav to go in for the kill and finish off the MNS?