RPI chief meets Sena boss
Ramdas Athawale, leader of the Republican Party of India (RPI), called on Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, on Tuesday, at his residence Matoshree in Bandra, fuelling speculation in political circles.
The two leaders met for over an hour in the afternoon. Athawale, a dalit leader, termed it a courtesy call to wish Thackeray on his birthday which was on Sunday, but also said the Sena chief had suggested earlier that both parties join hands and put up a united front against various issues ignored by the ruling alliance.
Athawale’s RPI is currently aligned with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
If the RPI joins the saffron party, it could upset existing political dynamics and calculations in the Mumbai civic polls next year. With the help of the Dalit party, the Sena, battling an internal crisis now, could stand to win substantially from the Dalit pockets in the city like Chembur and Ghatkopar.
However, Athawale insisted, “It was not a political discussion. But, the Sena chief has told us that Bhim Shakti and Shiv Shakti should go together. I am not negotiating for better deals and we have made no decision so far.”
He said Thackeray and Uddhav, the party’s executive president, were present at the meeting.
Political observers said Athawale was posturing to show his current allies, the Congress-NCP, that options were open to his party. Sources in the Sena said it would be a strategic alliance that could help it garner more seats in the BMC. It would also help fend off Raj Thackeray’s popularity among Dalit youth if the RPI sided with the Sena.
There is speculation that the Sena is facing problems with many senior leaders unhappy with the current hierarchy in the party. NCP leader and deputy CM Ajit Pawar is also wooing disgruntled Sena leaders.
NCP spokesperson Madan Bafna said, “There is nothing to stop Athawale from meeting Thackeray. People from different political viewpoints continue to have good relations with each other. We are not worried about RPI deserting us for the Sena.”