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Sena, BJP play waiting game; saffron face-off turns focus to other parties

Both the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who won a near equal mandate in the civic polls, have so far taken no steps to initiate a dialogue, work out a compromise and rule the BMC together.

mumbai Updated: Feb 26, 2017 07:28 IST
Ketaki Ghoge and Manasi Phadke
Ketaki Ghoge and Manasi Phadke
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
bmc polls,shiv sena,BJP
The BJP, for the time being, has decided to wait and watch the Congress’ stance before deciding its next move.(Hindustan Times)

If the saffron allies continue their stand-off, the fate of who controls Mumbai may be in the hands of parties who lost the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) — the Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).

Both the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who won a near equal mandate in the civic polls, have so far taken no steps to initiate a dialogue, work out a compromise and rule the BMC together.

Instead, the allies-turned-rivals on Saturday continued pressure tactics. The Sena claimed it is fully confident of getting its own mayor to win power in the civic body. The BJP reiterated its agenda of `transparency’.

The Sena, however, moved faster by already enlisting the support of four out of five independents to bolster its seat tally to 88. It has also initiated informal talks with the Congress top brass, to get support for its mayoral candidate directly.

The direct support from Congress looks tricky for now, with its city chief Sanjay Nirupam ruling it out. But, the party can still help the Sena by abstaining from voting or putting up its own mayoral candidate. Both options will reduce the numbers required to get a mayor elected for the Sena and BJP, putting greater onus on the role of the NCP and MNS.

The BJP, for the time being, has decided to wait and watch the Congress’ stance before deciding its next move. Its leaders have avoided making adverse comments on the issue.

Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, at a victory meet in Mumbai, said, “Those who want to go with Congress are free to go with them...we are firm on our agenda of transparency.” But neither did Fadnavis take on the Sena directly, nor did he claim the BJP would install its own mayor in the BMC.

Senior BJP leaders told HT if the party had to make a bid for mayor, it would enlist the support of the seven MNS corporators and the remaining independent corporator, but as of now, had not initiated talks with anyone.

If the parties face each other in the mayoral election on March 8 or 9, then that contest also looks poised for a close finish. But, many in the political circles believe the stance of the allies is more about muscle-flexing for a better bargain.

Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, it is learnt, is keen on ensuring only a Sena mayor in Mumbai and is pressurizing BJP to concede. “The BMC will definitely only have a Shiv Sena mayor. We have started informal talks with Congress. If the party doesn’t support us and decides to abstain, we will ensure we have a proper floor management plan in place for our mayoral candidate to win,” a Shiv Sena leader told HT.

Another senior Sena party functionary added, “Tying up with the BJP is not an option as of now. We hope that the Congress comes along with the Shiv Sena. If at one go we get a number of 31 to add to our tally, it will prove a definite majority and we won’t need to have any arrangements with other smaller parties at all,” a senior Sena functionary said.

The Congress with its 31 corporators can hold a key to Sena rule in the BMC, if it actively votes for a Sena mayor. It would not be the first time that the party has supported a Sena mayor. In mid-1970s, the Congress had helped Shiv Sena in installing its mayor in Mumbai.

However, state president Ashok Chavan had put a spanner in this discussion a day earlier saying that his party would consider support if Sena walked out if the BJP-led government.

On Saturday, Congress city president Sanjay Nirupam, further clarified that his party would not support Sena’s mayor even though the latter had sought their help. But, Nirupam said that his party would explore other options like abstaining from the polls or putting up their own candidate. Both these options could indirectly help to reduce the numbers required to get the mayor elected, making role of smaller parties even more important.

In such a scenario, how NCP and MNS play their cards would become crucial. The Samajwadi Party told HT that they would not support either of the saffron allies, with its six corporators expected to walk out during the mayoral election. The AIMIM is expected to do the same.

In such a scenario, if NCP decides to abstain from voting like the Congress and MNS supports BJP, the latter could have a seat tally of one more than the Sena. MNS has not revealed its cards yet though the BJP leaders feel that Raj Thackeray is more likely to support the BJP than the Sena, as the latter had snubbed his offer for a tie-up before the elections.

While NCP has officially said that they would not support either BJP or the Sena in its bid for the mayor’s post, senior leaders told HT that the party would definitely not support the BJP in this bid.

`We are sure that we will not support the BJP. Let Congress spell out their decision and then we will take a call. Currently, it also looks like both BJP and Sena will work out a compromise. Who will want to lose the state for the city?,’’ said a senior NCP leader.

He was referring to Chavan’s statement that challenged Sena to walk out of the BJP-led government to secure its own mayor in BMC.

Union BJP minister Nitin Gadkari cautioned the Sena about falling into Congress trap saying the party was trying to unstabalise the BJP-led government in Maharashtra.

Shiv Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray had a meeting with senior Sena leaders and newly-elected corporators at the party’s headquarters at Shiv Sena Bhavan, Dadar. He, however, said the meeting was procedural and there was no discussion about the mayoral candidates or election. “Today’s meeting was just to speak to the elected corporators, inform them about their duties and responsibilities in the BMC. Several of them are first-time corporators so there should not be any technical errors on their part,” Thackeray said.

He added, he will speak about the mayoral election when the party makes a decision.

Mumbai civic polls: Split Marathi votes may have cost Shiv Sena in 38 wards

First Published: Feb 26, 2017 01:24 IST