As the campaign for Lok Sabha seats in the Mumbai-Thane belt wound up on Tuesday evening, Uddhav Thackeray was less disturbed than he had been before Narendra Modi spoke out in support of the BJP ally, the Shiv Sena.
On Monday, at an election rally at Bandra-Kurla Complex, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate sent out a clear message to his supporters — that they should be wary of outsiders. In other words, that they should vote for the Shiv Sena and not the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), which has also been seeking votes in Modi’s name.
In eight seats in Mumbai and Thane, the big question is whether Raj Thackeray’s MNS will damage the prospects of the Sena-BJP candidates, as it did in 2009. In five of the eight seats, the two Senas face each other, and the Thackeray brothers have been desperately trying to outdo each other and claim a portion of the common space they share.
While Raj has been his aggressive best, raking up the outsiders in the city issue, playing the sons of the soil card and voicing his support for Modi, Uddhav, who has been struggling to keep his party together, has had no option but to sail his ship on the Modi wave.
The Sena is most concerned about the possibility of a repeat of the 2009 elections, when the MNS polled more than one lakh votes in six constituencies of Mumbai and one seat in Thane.
It damaged the chances of the saffron combine and helping the Congress-NCP alliance win all of them.
The recent overtures made by BJP leaders Nitin Gadkari and Gopinath Munde towards Raj had made Uddhav very nervous, and he has been desperate to get the right message across to the Sena’s voter base.
Uddhav won a crucial round on Monday when he got Modi to campaign with him at Kalyan constituency, where the Sena is fighting the MNS. Here, Modi told voters to beware of ‘Rajneeti’, which means politicking but can also mean games played by Raj, and to not look outside the saffron alliance.
The MNS denies that it is trying to play spoiler, but the reality is that of the eight seats in Mumbai and Thane, it is aiming to dent the Sena’s chances in five seats, where the two parties will clash head-on.
Political analysts feel that Modi’s statement has created a stir, but that for both Uddhav and Raj, the state Assembly elections are the real test.
Modi’s statement, however, has put Raj on the back foot, said analyst Surendra Jondhale. “He has become a political orphan, with top leaders disowning him. However, this is a token election for Raj, and his only aim is to create trouble for the Sena and prepare ground for state polls. All this will change depending on the Lok Sabha outcome,” Jondhale said.
Political expert B Venkatesh Kumar feels that the fight between the Thackerays is there to stay as they both occupy the same space, but that equations might change after the Lok Sabha results.
“Both are strong threats to one another and the BJP is clearly in a dilemma as to how to deal with them. But after the Lok Sabha results, depending on how the BJP performs, equations between the three will change. It will be politics of opportunism,” Kumar said.
On Tuesday, upset with Modi’s remarks, Raj chose not to venture out. But that does not mean anything.
With one more day left before the city steps out to vote, there’s uneasiness in the saffron combine over what message Raj will give to his party workers. On the ground, if the MNS cadre gets aggressive, the Sena-BJP candidates will have tough time in the eight constituencies.