Lok Sabha elections 2019: BJP toes Shiv Sena line, drops Kirit Somaiya
The Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP) on Wednesday said Kirit Somaiya, its two-term MP from Mumbai’s North East constituency, will not contest the Lok Sabha elections, a move in line with its ally Shiv Sena’s opposition to his renomination.
The BJP named Manoj Kotak, a municipal corporator from Mulund and an aide of chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, as its candidate for the constituency — the only one of the state’s 48 seats where the party had not yet announced its candidate.
There has been speculation about Somaiya being dropped for a while now. On Wednesday, a senior BJP leader admitted that Somaiya’s attacks against the Thackeray family, in the run up to a bitterly-contested Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls in 2017, had cost him the party ticket.
“While the state leadership suggested Somaiya’s name as a candidate for the North East Mumbai seat, it had also informed the top brass that giving him a ticket would go against ally Sena’s wishes and result in a revolt that will cost the party the seat,” said a senior BJP leader, who did not want to be named. “The party high command did not want to fight for Somaiya and risk a loss,’’ the leader said. Even the CM did not plead Somaiya’s case, the BJP leader said. “The CM thought Somaiya had overstepped his brief and gone too far to attack the party’s ally,” he said. While Somaiya was given a chance to clear the air with Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, it was not entertained. However, it is learnt the MP has been assured a Rajya Sabha ticket.
Kotak, a three-time corporator and prominent Gujarati face in Mulund, is considered to be close to Fadnavis. Kotak has been a BJP group leader in the BMC since 2014, and is known to have good relations with Sena’s leaders. The Mumbai North east constituency, which includes the eastern suburbs from Mankhurd to Mulund, has a significant Gujarati and Maharashtrian population. Rebellion by the Sena here, or support to NCP against Somaiya could have cost the BJP the seat.
After the announcement on Wednesday, Somaiya congratulated Kotak, saying, “He is like a younger brother to me. After serving three terms in the Mumbai Municipal Corporation, he is well aware of the city’s problems and I am sure he will represent Mumbai in an excellent way in Parliament.” Somaiya added that the BJP’s win in the North East seats “will be one of the biggest in Maharashtra”.
The row between the Sena and Somiaya began in 2017, when the BJP and the Sena decided to contest the city civic body polls without an alliance. Somaiya was one of the first BJP leaders who announced that his party would contest all BMC seats to remove corruption from the civic body. He alleged, indirectly, that the Thackerays ran a “mafia raj” in the BMC.
Sena leaders hit back alleging corruption by Somaiya in the Mulund dumping ground issue. Somaiya challenged Thackeray to declare his personal assets and financial transactions and suggested the Thackerays were involved in laundering money through shell companies that were allegedly used to pass on kick-backs from BMC contracts.
HT contacted Shiv Sena leaders on Wednesday, but they all refused to react on the development. A section of leaders within the BJP, however, feel Somaiya was treated badly. “Somaiya made allegations as per the brief given to him by the party at the time. He has been an above average Parliamentarian and played an important role in exposing various scams, especially in the run up to the 2014 polls.
This sends a wrong message and indicates the degree to which we are playing the Sena’s tune,’’ said another BJP leader, who did not want to be named. Somaiya had been at the forefront of making allegations of money-laundering against NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal in the Maharashtra Sadan scam as well as NCP leaders Sunil Tatkare and Ajit Pawar in the irrigation scam.