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Monday, Sep 16, 2019

Confusion prevails in MNS with LS polls months away

According to party leaders, there also seems to be an understanding that the Shiv Sena will ultimately tie up with BJP

mumbai Updated: Feb 10, 2019 00:34 IST
Naresh Kamath
Naresh Kamath
Hindustan Times
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena party chief Raj Thackeray
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena party chief Raj Thackeray(HT PHOTO)

With the Lok Sabha elections just months away, the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) seems to be in a state of confusion over seats, constituencies and alliances. According to Thackeray’s close aides, while he recently held talks with Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar and demanded four to five seats, the party is also deliberating the constituencies it can win if supported indirectly by the Congress-NCP combine.

According to party leaders, there also seems to be an understanding that the Shiv Sena will ultimately tie up with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The MNS is thus, also looking at what role it can play to damage the BJP-Sena’s plans, especially in the Mumbai-Thane-Pune belt.

According to an MNS leader, the party chief has been in serious talks with Pawar. “We have asked for seats where we have strong influence. More than the Lok Sabha polls, our main focus is on assembly elections. We need to protect our vote bank,” said the leader, requesting anonymity. The MNS has reportedly asked for Mumbai North-East, Thane, Kalyan and Nashik seats from the NCP —constituencies where the party still has some base.

Additionally, the MNS has also offered to field candidates from a couple of constituencies as part of its strategy to damage the Sena by cutting into Marathi votes. In 2009, the MNS had walked away with a sizeable share of votes from Mumbai, Thane and Nashik that had led to the defeat of BJP-Sena candidates there. It had turned out to be an advantage for the Congress-NCP who had won all six seats in Mumbai and some in Thane, Nashik and Pune districts.

Meanwhile, an NCP leader said roping in Thackeray will be beneficial for the Congress-NCP alliance. “Thackeray is still a charismatic leader who has a large youth following. We also need to keep him relevant as he can be used against both the Sena and BJP effectively,” said the NCP leader.

Moreover, despite the Sena being critical of the BJP and vouching to go solo, MNS members feel the parties will ultimately tie up. According to political analysts, it was not possible for mainstream parties to have direct alliance with the MNS considering its anti-North Indian stance. “There will be a tacit understanding where the NCP will field weak candidates against the MNS. The MNS seeks to wean away Sena voters by claiming it was an opportunistic alliance and Sena has cheated its voters,” said political commentator Prakash Bal.

The Congress has also already indicated that it will have no truck with the MNS. “There is no question of any alliance with the MNS as it believes in divisive politics while we advocate an inclusive one,” said Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam.

MNS leaders claimed they are waiting for orders from Thackeray. “There are talks happening at the highest level and the final decision will be taken by our chief,” said MNS spokesperson Sandeep Deshpande. Despite the talks, at the ground level, MNS workers seem to be clueless about what stand they would be taking during the coming LS polls. “The workers are completely demoralised and there are no clear orders from the top leaders. Except Thackeray, we have no one to look up to. We still don’t know whether we are going to contest the polls or not,” said a local leader, requesting anonymity.

Post the 2014 elections, MNS has been on a downhill ride with its tally of assembly members reducing from 13 after 2009 elections to just one in five years. Moreover, in the 2017 Mumbai civic polls, the MNS’s kitty dropped to seven seats from 28 in 2012. This has now come down to just one corporator as six of them were poached by the Sena.

In recent months, Thackeray has become a bitter critic of the BJP and especially of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In his annual Gudi Padwa rally, he had given a clarion call for “Modi-mukt Bharat” (Modi-free India), and appealed to like-minded parties to forge a united opposition against the BJP for the 2019 elections. At the same time, he has been in touch with Pawar who is looking for ways to cut the votes of the saffron combine in Maharashtra.

First Published: Feb 10, 2019 00:33 IST