A telephonic conversation that lasted for ten minutes and an invitation to New Delhi have political circles in Maharashtra abuzz. Could the bonhomie between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray lead to a subtle political realignment, at least in Mumbai?
The two have been known to share warm relations but the MNS’ abysmal failure in the 2014 elections and Modi’s refusal to even acknowledge Thackeray’s support through his Lok Sabha campaign meant that the two fell out. Now, a phone call from the MNS chief to Modi, purportedly to urge the Prime Minister to put off implementation of the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), has led to many asking, could this be a sign of the things to come ahead of the crucial civic polls next year?
A source close to Thackeray laughed the speculation off saying it would be too early to draw any conclusion from Modi’s gesture. “Modi’s invitation was a casual remark and Thackeray reciprocated in the same vein. Right now, we are in such a weak situation that it is unlikely that they need us, especially at a time when they seem keen to test their own strength and contest by themselves,” said the leader.
An alliance, BJP insiders also said, is unlikely. After all, at this point, the MNS is a liability more than an asset. But, many BJP insiders believe that it is in the party’s interest to ensure that the MNS remains ‘alive’. “The MNS’ collapse will only benefit the Shiv Sena, not us. Hence, we need to do what we can to ensure that the MNS lives. The party realizes this and, hence, you may see more importance being given to Raj Thackeray in the coming days,” admitted a BJP general secretary, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In fact, with a break-up with the Shiv Sena appearing inevitable, the BJP may not even mind the idea of a resurgent MNS clashing with the Sena in the city’s Marathi-speaking strongholds. “The MNS and the Sena’s clash of votes can benefit us, especially in areas such as Dadar, Parel, Lalbaug. Without a division of the Marathi votes, it may get difficult to beat the Sena,” observed another city BJP leader. He also did not rule out a tacit understanding with the MNS for the Mumbai civic polls.
“The common factor between us is that both the parties want the Sena’s vote share to reduce for our growth. However, we may not afford a direct alliance with the MNS as we have managed to get a large chunk of north Indian votes in Mumbai. If we align with MNS, those voters may switch to the Congress,” he said adding that a strategic understanding would help both sides.
In fact, some quarters of the MNS are happy to exploit the situation. On Tuesday, in fact, a senior MNS leader was tipping off mediapersons on how Modi had invited Thackeray for lunch and that Thackeray was going in Delhi, only for a denial to follow later. Clearly, the MNS isn’t going to shy away from the media attention that it is garnering after a long while, especially the kind which may lead its followers to believe that a revival is in the offing.