The Thackeray cousins have been locked in a bitter tussle for the past six years, and the February 16 Mumbai civic polls are likely to lead to an all-out war between Uddhav and Raj.
The cousins have been trying to marginalise each other in state politics since Raj broke away from the Shiv Sena in 2005 and floated his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). Though he did n’t see much success in the 2007 civic polls and Uddhav retained control of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), Raj is now on firmer ground.
In 2009, the MNS chief got back at his cousin with his campaign against north Indian migrants, which worked to hijack the Sena’s Marathi manoos agenda and, subsequently, votes. In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, Raj ensured the defeat of all six Sena-BJP candidates in the city. The same year, he scuttled Uddhav’s plan to win the Assembly elections, with the saffron combine suffering setbacks in the Mumbai-Thane-Pune-Nashik region. Uddhav had to face the humiliation of the MNS winning more Assembly seats (6) than the Sena (4) in Mumbai.
“If Raj wants to marginalise Uddhav, he has to ensure the Sena loses the BMC,” said an MNS functionary, requesting anonymity.
The BMC, whose 2011-12 budget was Rs22,000 crore, is crucial for the Sena. For decades, the party has been deriving its strength and influence from its power over India’s financial capital.
For Uddhav, the polls give the opportunity to prove that the Sena is still a formidable political force and has greater influence than the MNS. A win will also set a positive tone for the 2014 Assembly elections. Little wonder then that both parties are busy finalising battle plans.
While Uddhav is trying to ride on the work done by the BMC, Raj’s plan is to show how the saffron combine botched up and how incapable his cousin is.
Analysts said the cousins are slowly moving away from a parochial approach to a developmental agenda. “Raj will try to undermine Uddhav, especially on the development front. It all depends on how Uddhav responds,” said political analyst B Venkatesh Kumar.
Prakash Bal, political commentator, said the polls will test the leadership skill of both cousins. “Raj will go out to prove that Uddhav is incapable of leading the Sena,” he said.
“We have a plan — to target bad governance of the city,” said MNS spokesperson Shirish Parkar. The MNS intends to concentrate on Mumbai, Thane, Pune and Nashik.
The Sena thinks such plans won’t work until one proves what one can do. “We have proved ourselves at the BMC. People want to see results, not hear smooth talk,” said Sena’s legislator from Mumbai, Ravindra Waikar.