With an eye on the Marathi vote bank in the BMC elections in February 2017, the BJP is planning to project more Marathi faces for its campaign and is looking to poach on leaders from other parties, including Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.
BJP functionaries in Mumbai feel that till the time Marathi-speaking people are with the Shiv Sena, it will be difficult to emerge as the single-largest party in the city.
The Sena has been ruling the cash-rich Mumbai civic body for over 15 years with BJP so far playing the second fiddle. With BJP in power in the state, the party feels this is the time to wrest the civic body from the Sena or at least become a significant presence in the city.
The BJP local leaders are also aware that they are identified more with the Gujarati vote bank in the city and want to avoid this perception. As such, during the drawing of strategies for civic elections it has also been decided to use Marathi leaders, who have been recently poached by the BJP, heavily for campaigns.
Recently, after a series of discussions on the BMC election in a meeting held at Lonavala under state BJP president Raosaheb Danave, the party decided to use leaders like Ram Kadam, Pravin Darekar, who were recently inducted in the BJP from MNS to attract Marathi voters. Sources said though the meeting was supposed to have only senior and old party members, both Kadam and Darekar were specially invited for the meeting considering the upcoming BMC elections.
Considering the widening rift between the Sena and the BJP, both are likely to contest the Mumbai elections separately.
A senior BJP leader said, “Sena has very strong base among Marathi voters since shakhas (local ground-level units in every ward) have helped them to create emotional connect between the party and the people. By fielding Marathi-speaking leaders we will try to connect to the Marathi Manoos and dispel the notion that we are a pro-Gujarati party.”
In the Kalyan Dombivli Municipal Corporation despite the BJP’s trying hard to woo the Marathi voters, it couldn’t beat the Sena because of absence of a Marathi face. If we want our mayor in the next election, we have to warm up to the Marathi voters, said a BJP leader in the BMC.
Prakash Darekar, the brother of former MLA Pravin Darekar, and corporator from Dahisar’s Chintamani Nagar, besides corporator Sukhada Pawar from Vivekanand Nagar, Bandra east, recently joined the BJP.
The Sena’s voter base — the Marathi belt — was divided in 2012, owing to the emergence of the MNS. Now, with the MNS corporators turning to the BJP, the later is hoping that it will give push to their agenda of getting more Marathi votes.
Recently, the closeness between BJP and MNS had come to light when four MNS corporators, Prakash Darekar (Dahisar), Dilip Lande (Sakinaka), Eshwar Tayade (Chandivali) and Sanjay Bhalerao (Ghatkopar) were found accepting funds from BJP for development works in their areas. BJP leaders are actively taking on any Marathi local willing to join the party.
Despite repeated attempts, BJP group leader in the BMC, Manoj Kotak, refused to comment on the issue.