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Will this tiger ride the elephant?

Shiva Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray is going hammer and tongs at the BJP day-after-day as he fights the biggest battle of his life — the polls to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation on February 21...

mumbai Updated: Feb 14, 2017 15:12 IST
Sujata Anandnan
BMC polls
Shiv Sena cheif addresses a rally ahead of BMC polls in Goregaon. (HT photo )

“What is the use of having a 56-inch chest or even a 5,000-inch one, if there is no heart inside it?’’

“You say Dr Manmohan Singh wears a raincoat while taking bath. Did he not cover RBI governor Urjit Patel in the very same raincoat when the latter was being torn apart by the parliamentary committee questioning him on your demonetisation?’’

One might be forgiven for thinking the first statement was from Arvind Kejriwal and the second one by Rahul Gandhi at the UP or Punjab elections. But this is now what is an emerging vintage Uddhav Thackeray, going hammer and tongs, at the BJP day-after-day as he fights the biggest battle of his life — the polls to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation on February 21.

So this one has come up as a favourite of his supporters: “The BJP is like an elephant gone out of control. It needs the restraining hand of a mahout to keep it in check .The Shiv Sena is that mahout.’’

I do not think anyone in the BJP, which has in turn labelled the Shiv Sena as Kauravas who need to be destroyed at these polls, quite appreciates the manner in which Uddhav and his party seem to be turning the tables on them. For example, when BJP MP Kirit Somaiyya charged the Sena with corruption in the BMC, Sena MP Rahul Shevale had an unanswerable comeback — how come you were partners with us for 20 years in that corruption?

The BJP is shaking with anger at not just the mahout comment but also the Sena’s coup with speaking to the leader of the Patidar movement, Hardik Patel, from neighbouring Gujarat. While Patel could do much damage to the BJP at the Gujarat elections later this year with the Sena’s backing and resources, the significance of his meeting with Uddhav right now is not lost on anyone in the party.

The BJP seems to be living in a 2014 bubble believing that its good showing during both the Lok Sabha and assembly elections that year will coast it to victory even at the civic polls. But while two years is a long time for things to remain static and people also vote differently at different elections, they are waking up to the fact that they can no longer take the Gujarati vote for granted.

Even without the pain of demonetisation that affected both the rich and the poor (Gujarati entrepreneurs and north Indian workers) the most — the middle-classes were much better off during that drive — Gujaratis may still have preferred the Shiv Sena for the simple reason that they wish to be left in peace to conduct their business. It is prudent to keep the Sena in power in the BMC for an uncaged tiger would be much more difficult to deal with in the future. But now, Uddhav, who knows he may have bagged much of this vote already, is also setting the Congress’s teeth on edge by bringing to the fore the issues that the Congress should have raised in the first place.

In a bid to lay bare the pretensions of the BJP government in the state, Uddhav has pointed out that the metro rail and other projects were not the BJP’s plans for the city. “These were formulated by the previous Congress government; all that Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is doing is either laying foundation stones or cutting ribbons for projects started or completed by the Congress.’’

Congress city president Sanjay Nirupam was not amused. The party has been running a negative campaign against the Shiv Sena for months, concentrating mostly on potholed roads (which now even the BJP is using as a weapon against its ally) and water and electricity, which the BMC has failed to provide in full measure to the people. The party quite forgot to show case its own achievements like the Eastern Freeway which has made life so much easier for motorists or, yes, the metro and mono rails saving time on suburban commutes to office goers and others.

But listening to Uddhav Thackeray I am beginning to believe that he has finally moved out of the shadow of his father — his whipping criticism of the BJP is not unlike Bal Thackeray’ s but he is tearing huge chunks off the BJP’s sides with such a smile on the face (of the tiger, dare I say?) that it is leaving BJP leaders flustered and speechless.

The tiger is indeed riding the elephant and it makes for quite a riveting picture!

Also read: Mumbai civic polls: A toss up between overlords and underdogs