Bit of a trouble in paradise?

May 29, 2023 12:22 AM IST

BJP legislators in Mumbai Metropolitan Region have complained about the lack of funds provided by Eknath Shinde, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra. Shinde is a member of the Shiv Sena party, which is in a coalition with the BJP. MPs aligned with Shinde have also complained of being treated badly by the central government. Despite the bickering, Shinde is pushing hard to win the Mumbai civic elections, which would significantly damage the Shiv Sena's influence. The opposition space is also becoming crowded, with several parties, including AIMIM and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, preparing to contest elections.

In a recent meeting of the state BJP, party legislators from Mumbai Metropolitan Region had several complaints against none other than chief minister Eknath Shinde. A legislator complained that he did not get enough funds from the Shinde-led urban development department but the MLA from his neighbouring constituency, who is from the Shinde-led Shiv Sena, got works of 130 crore approved. “We have to fight for works of even if 2-3 crore. This is surprising considering this government is propped by our party,” he rued.

HT Image
HT Image

Other BJP MLAs from the region joined him. MLAs from Thane district said they were struggling to get local administrative officers of their choice. They were somehow pacified by the top leaders saying they would take up the matter with Shinde, but the unease of the BJP MLAs with Shinde and his party was visible. While the party legislators have complaints related to administrative matters, the top state leaders are still not convinced that Shinde can transfer traditional Shiv Sena votes to the BJP kitty. They are still figuring out a way to handle this issue.

Things are not hunky dory on the other side too. In a recent meeting, Shinde’s MPs complained that they were not getting works done by the central government. Mumbai NorthWest MP Gajanan Kirtikar told the mediapersons that they do not think they are being considered as a part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. “We are being given step-motherly treatment,” he lamented. In the same meeting, it was decided to stake claim on 22 out of 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra. In 2019 general elections, when the BJP and Shiv Sena contested as allies, the BJP had 26 seats while Shiv Sena had 22. Shinde-led Sena has insisted that they want the same number of seats now. The BJP is not amused. Party leaders doubt whether Shinde even has suitable candidates for all the 22 seats. With barely a year until the general elections — and maybe even assembly elections, if both are held simultaneously — the tussle within the ruling alliance could grow if the top leaders from both the sides fail to address the troublesome issues.

Shinde’s mission Mumbai

Notwithstanding the bickering between the two parties, chief minister Eknath Shinde is going hammer and tongs in his bid to win Mumbai civic elections for the ruling alliance. On May 18 and 19, he spent four-five hours each day visiting the pre-monsoon work undertaken by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to prevent flooding in the city during the rains. As he climbed down at a nullah cleaning site and interacted with the workers there, his spin doctors made a hashtag, ‘#PeoplesCMEknath’ viral. On Wednesday, he visited the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link, which reached a milestone as one side of the link was fully connected. Shinde is also trying to get maximum Shiv Sena corporators, in the last civic house, to his side. According to the Shinde camp insiders, both Shinde and the BJP leadership are determined to win the BMC, which has been a source of strength and influence for Shiv Sena for close to three decades. It will damage Uddhav Thackeray’s revival plan and thus affect MVA’s poll prospects in the state. The BJP insiders say their surveys show that the traditional support base of Thackeray is largely intact because of the sympathy factor. That coupled with Dalit- Muslim combination of votes could mean a Shiv Sena (UBT)-Congress combine could pose a serious challenge in Mumbai civic polls, they feel. The only way to make a dent in the same is Shinde-led Shiv Sena walking away with a significant chunk of votes. Hence, the determined efforts. Will it work? That will be known when the elections are held after the monsoon, that is, if they are held.

Crowding the opposition space

On Saturday, former Rajya Sabha MP Chhatrapati Sambhajiraje, who is a descendant of Maratha king Shivaji Maharaj, announced in Pune that his party Swarajya will contest the next assembly elections. Sambhajiraje has been quite vocal on the issue of Maratha reservation and is popular among the community’s youth especially in western Maharashtra. Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao has been holding a series of rallies, targetting the central Maharashtra or Marathwada region that shares border with his state. His Bharat Rashtra Samiti plans to contest Lok Sabha and assembly seats in Maharashtra. Prakash Ambedkar has begun mobilising his Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi which mostly aims for Dalit and Muslim votes. Not to be left behind, All India Majlees-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) is preparing to enter the arena once again. On Saturday, the party chief Asaduddin Owaisi addressed a rally in Nagpur. Back in Mumbai, Raj Thackeray has once again started rebuilding his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. He has even started attacking the BJP.

Surely the opposition space is getting crowded. The MVA leaders see the BJP designs in some of these parties getting active in the opposition space which could mean reduction in the coalition’s vote share. That may or may not be true but the three parties in the MVA are definitely not helping their cause with the constant public bickering over sharing of Lok Sabha and assembly seats.


    Shailesh Gaikwad is senior associate editor, Hindustan Times. He heads the political bureau in HT’s Mumbai edition. In his career of over 18 years, he has covered Maharashtra politics, state government and urban governance issues.

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