After ruling the BMC together for more than two decades, the BJP and the Shiv Sena are headed for a bitter fight in their bid to get the bigger piece of the civic body that governs India’s financial capital. And a day after the Sena pulled the rug from under the saffron alliance for the Mumbai civic polls, all eyes are now on CM Devendra Fadnavis, who will address at the BJP’s show of strength rally at Goregaon on Saturday and is expected to set the tone for the BJP campaign. The fight could impact the functioning of the BJP-led government in the state, with the Sena indicating it will become more aggressive.
Sena minister Subhash Desai said the new crop of BJP leaders is not the same as what it used to be. “The Sena has some emotions, sentiments towards the alliance, whereas this next generation of BJP is only about transactions, gains and convenience,” he said.
“Their participation in the alliance does not come from any kind of sentiment, affinity or loyalty. We can’t identify with this generation of BJP leaders,” Desai said, adding that if the way the government is functioning becomes too intolerable for the Shiv Sena then at the right time the party leadership will take an appropriate decision.
Sources from both parties told HT that the prestigious Mumbai civic polls will now be played out as CM versus Thackeray and the BJP versus the Sena and not as a local polls involving ward-level candidates and civic issues. The third party in the contest and Opposition so far, the Congress, may be relegated to the side in this battle.
Ironically, both Fadnavis and Thackeray, over the past few weeks, were trying to work out a statewide alliance so that the two ruling partners in the state have an upper hand in the civic and district council elections that are touted as mini-assembly elections because they would cover 80% of the voters in the state.
“Fadnavis will address a gathering of polling booth-level party workers. But the address will be for the entire city. It is clear that transparency, non-corruption and development will form our central plank in the coming election. The chief minister will also directly or indirectly answer Thackeray’s accusations at the same venue,’’ said a senior BJP functionary.
The BJP went into a close huddle on Friday evening to finalise the strategy for its campaign, which will be headlined by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Fadnavis. It is, however, not clear if Fadnavis, who was keen on a saffron alliance to ensure stability to his government, will directly take on Thackeray or attack the Sena. He is, however, expected to put the blame of the break up on the former ally.
Thackeray ended the 25-year-old alliance with the BJP for the upcoming polls to the country’s richest civic body as well as the nine remaining cities and 25 district councils next month. The two parties, which have been in an alliance since 1989, parted ways ahead of the Assembly polls in 2014, joined hands again to run the government in the state before Thackeray’s decision on Thursday. The two parties will not align anywhere in the state in these elections, which could mean the BJP will have to face the Sena as an opponent in Thane, Ulhasnagar, Pune, Pimpri-Chichwad and Nashik as well as several district councils where it is facing a tough contest. Putting up a good show in these elections is important for Fadnavis.
Significantly, Thackeray’s remarks of the Sena not aligning with the BJP for any future elections has also put a question mark on the future of the Fadnavis government, which relies on the Sena’s 63 legislators for stability.
Sena MP Sanjay Raut on Friday clarified his party will not pull out of the government for now, but added its ministers were prepared for such an eventuality in the future.
“We are in the government because we don’t want to create any instability. Any instability would only make farmers, the hard-working population of the state, suffer. We are not hungry for power, but this Maharashtra is ours and we care for it. Just as Uddhav Thackeray directed us to break the alliance for the civic body elections, at the right time, he could ask us to walk out of the state government, too. Our ministers have already said they have packed their bags and will be ready to go when they are ordered to,’’ he said.
Although the Fadnavis government may not fall any time soon, it is clear the Sena will create more trouble for the administration and governance.
For starters, Sena ministers indicated they are likely to rake up issues and oppose the BJP in state cabinet meetings. In the next meeting, they said they will press on the ‘transparency in administration’ that Thackeray said the state government needs to adopt. Thackeray had asked for all cabinet meetings to include minsters of state, members of the media, the opposition leader and a Lokayukta, in response to the BJP demanding transparency in the civic administration.
So far, despite the tussle outside the government, the Sena had not rocked the government by disrupting cabinet meetings. Sena MPs also boycotted a meeting called by Fadnavis of all the state MPs to discuss the budget. And Sena ministers, including Subhash Desai, Ramdas Kadam and Deepak Sawant, met Fadnavis demanding the withdrawal of a government decision to remove all photographs of Gods and Goddess from government offices. Thackeray, in his rally, had termed this decision anti-Hindu. In response, BJP minister Vinod Tawde, in a tongue-in-cheek remark said that if Sena ministers were better informed they would not have let their chief astray and in turn people would not have been misled.
“There is no ordinance to this effect by the government and the department concerned had not issued any government order on the same. A letter had been issued by a desk officer without consulting his superiors and a show-cause notice had already been sent to him,’’ said Tawde. He said Thackeray had also made a reference about tenders being discussed in cabinet meetings when in reality no tender gets tabled or discussed in such meetings.