Buoyed by its Bihar experiment, where it fielded more than 80 candidates and got two lakh votes during the state Assembly polls last year, the Shiv Sena is now out to embarrass ally Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), again.
The Sena plans to contest four state elections in West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and field candidates independent of the BJP’s plans. On Saturday, the Sena declared its first list of 24 of the 45-odd candidates it plans to field in Kerala. While in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the Sena may only put up a token fight, it is keen on making an impact in Assam and West Bengal — two states the BJP also wants to make significant gains in. Part of the plan is to send senior leaders, including MPs, to campaign there.
The party is also clear about its calling card — a hardline Hindutva stance and highlighting the issue of Bangladeshi nationals migrating to these states without proper documentation .
The move is a result of the breakdown in understanding between the allies, Sena senior leader and MP Anil Desai said. “Earlier, there was an understanding between the Sena and the BJP that we would focus on Maharashtra and not contest in other states, so the BJP’s chances are not jeopardised. Now that no such understanding remains, we don’t want to put a halt to expanding our party base.”
The party’s West Bengal in charge, Vinay Shukla, said, “Our reading of the situation shows there is disenchantment among Hindu voters as they view Mamata [Bannerjee, CM] as someone who appeases minorities. A significant portion also believes no party in Bengal wants to take on the issue of Bangladeshi migrants. Our strategies will primarily revolve around these issues.”
While the Sena is yet to decide the exact number of seats, leaders have already travelled to Assam and WB in the past few weeks to mobilise its cadre.
Relations with the BJP showing no signs of improving is one of the reasons the Sena is keen on contesting in the two states its allly is vying for.
Another reason is the ‘gains’ the party believes it made during the Bihar polls. Of the 80 seats it contested, it’s candidates stood third in seven, while in two others, they came fourth.
Party seniors are aware the Sena may not be able to win any seat, but say the exercise is aimed at long-term gains, apart from trying to poach the BJP’s voter base. “In all these states, we have been known for our cultural and social activities - be it organising the Ganesha festivities or running ambulance services. We don’t expect a windfall, but this is a start to our larger expansion plans in the country,” Desai said.