Shiv Sena’s bid for pre-eminence gets another jolt

‘To see the BJP roar to an almost two-thirds majority cut the ground from under them’

mumbai Updated: Aug 24, 2017 23:57 IST
Ayaz Memon
Ayaz Memon
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Maharashtra,Shiv Sena
The Mira-Bhayander civic poll results diminish the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena’s claims of being the pre-eminent party in the state.(HT FILE)

The Shiv Sena’s ambitious journey from its headquarters in Dadar to the seat of power in Mantralaya has been stymied (at least for now) by an unlikely part of Greater Mumbai – Mira-Bhayander.

The BJP posted a massive win in the corporation elections there last week, more than doubling its seat tally from 29 to 61. While the Sena too improved on previous performance (by 8 seats), in the context of the battle this was a setback.

Having ruled the Mira-Bhayander corporation as allies (as they do in the BMC and state), the two parties had decided to go their separate ways this time. Willy-nilly, this election became a prestige issue for both parties.

The Sena had taken a particularly belligerent position, breaking into the ranks of the NCP (particularly) to get greater heft in the area, and claimed it would get a majority on its own.

To see the BJP roar to an almost two-thirds majority cut the ground from under them. The prospect of running the corporation together had been squandered. Worse, the party had come off looking a poor also-ran.

Politically, this is the more damaging aspect for the Sena. The Mira-Bhayander civic poll results, seen in conjunction several other municipal corporations in Maharashtra since 2014, diminish the Sena’s claims of being the pre-eminent party in the state.

Ramifications of corporation results are now not restricted to local influence. Incessant acrimony between the BJP and Sena, the constant jostling for pole position, will have a bearing how the assembly shapes up in the next elections.

Since 2014, on almost every issue, the two parties have responded to each other like opponents rather than allies. Indeed, given the taut relations, there has been wide speculation whether the alliance will survive till 2019.

The problem for the Sena, however, is vexatious. It exists in the same political space that is being swamped by the BJP and sees an existential threat: Even a shriller, more extreme position has little value because the BJP’s fringe has occupied that too.

Not that the Sena has been oblivious to the threat. In fact, it has made tangible and interesting efforts to reinvent itself as larger than just a ‘sons of the soil, anti-minority’ party in recent times, and with some success too.

It has been trying to build a fresh cadre through sports. Elsewhere, it has also been wooing the city youth — party-hoppers, entrepreneurs etc — through a hitherto unrevealed cosmopolitanism by seeking a more expansive nightlife for Mumbai. It has sided with students (on disputes that have arisen) and conservationists by opposing the proposed Metro 3 rail car shed at Aarey Milk Colony.

In all of this, it has used the BJP as target practice. The fact that it is now the junior partner in the old alliance still rankles the Sena. Worse, most recent corporation election results seem to have only bolstered the BJP’s position.

Essentially, this is because chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has so far tackled challenges squarely, astutely and with finesse. Among all major BJP-ruled states, Maharashtra remains relatively free of problems like vigilantism, bigotry et al. Yet, there are issues like farmers’ deaths, delayed university examination results (Mumbai), failure to still apprehend killers of rationalists Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar, joblessness, health care shortcomings which could become fertile ground for the opposition to rock the boat.

But who can do this? The two biggest losers in the Mira-Bhayander corporation elections were MNS and NCP. The first has almost ceased to exist as anything but a spoiler, yet without any gain to itself.

The NCP, connected once with the immense clout of Sharad Pawar, is now scrambling to remain relevant. From 27 seats previously when it was allied with the Congress to zero this time is telling of beleaguered the opposition in the state is.

The Congress, with 10 seats (19 previously) did not do as badly when you consider the destruction otherwise. But it is still in a dazed, Alice In Wonderland state of mind, riven by internecine strife, unable to find a strong rallying cause for its workers or voters. That leaves the Shiv Sena. It will be interesting to see how Matoshree moves from here.

First Published: Aug 24, 2017 23:42 IST