On the eve of the civic polls, the question raging on Mumbai’s streets was: Will Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray and his estranged nephew and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray reconcile?
Senior Thackeray’s recent statements — that his doors are always open for Raj — has led to speculation that the aging patriarch could be looking for support from Raj in case the Sena-BJP combine fails to win a majority and the MNS is in a position to chose kingmaker.
Angered by the elevation of Uddhav as the clear second-in-command in the party, Raj quit the Sena six years ago and floated the MNS. In a bid to score over his cousin, who wanted the Sena to be an all-inclusive party, Raj opted for the hardline.
The creation of the party signaled trouble for the Sena and split their votebank. His violent version of the ‘sons of the soil’ campaign targeted at north Indians led to Sena’s defeat in the Mumbai-Pune belt in the 2009 assembly elections and helped the Congress return to power in the state. The MNS won more assembly seats than the Sena in Mumbai and is now hoping to repeat the performance in the BMC.
However, despite drawing daggers at each during their respective political rallies on Monday, uncle and nephew admitted to an affinity towards each other in their speeches.
While the Sena chief said that his doors were always open for Raj, the latter said he was willing to take a hundred steps for his uncle, but does not support cousin Uddhav. However, it remains to be seen if they will reach out for each other if the situation arises.
“If there is no clear majority with the Sena- BJP-RPI alliance or the Congress-NCP alliance, then the role of the MNS will be crucial. There is a possibility that the MNS would join hands with the former, with BJP playing a crucial role in getting Raj into supporting the alliance,” said political analyst B Venkatesh Kumar.
During their interview with HT, both Uddhav and Raj were fielded questions on what they party would do in case of a fractured verdict.
While Uddhav maintained such a situation would not arise and the Sena would have a full majority, Raj said: “I don’t contest polls on the basis of ifs and buts. I am contesting it to win.”
In case of a hung house, making a choice will not be easy for Raj. Supporting the Congress-NCP openly would not be a pratical choice politically, for either side. On the other hand, Raj’s own party cannot grow further if the Sena remains strong as both share the same support base.