Sena vs BJP: Will it reach boiling point by 2017 BMC polls?

For nearly two decades now, Mumbai’s civic body — the richest in India in terms of revenue — has been the Shiv Sena’s source of power and influence. The citadel is now under threat from none other than its longtime ally, the BJP.
Hindustan Times | By Sayli Udas Mankikar, Mumbai
UPDATED ON JUL 26, 2015 01:55 PM IST

For nearly two decades now, Mumbai’s civic body — the richest in India in terms of revenue — has been the Shiv Sena’s source of power and influence. The citadel is now under threat from none other than its long-time ally, the BJP.

The alliance partners are each preparing to wrest control of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, which has an annual budget of Rs 30,000 crore and will go to the polls in early 2017.

After bagging 122 seats in the Maharashtra assembly polls —including 15 out of the 36 assembly seats from Mumbai — the BJP has set its sights on winning power on its own in the civic body of India’s financial capital. BJP national president Amit Shah himself is keen on this, which is why the two parties are locked in a bitter tussle. Little wonder, the uneasy competition between the two partners is often turning into public spats over various Mumbai-related issues.

What began with Aaditya Thackeray opposing the LED lights installed at Marine Drive, continued with the Sena slamming the development plan, a blueprint for Mumbai’s growth, and the move to build a shed for the Metro rakes at the Aarey Colony, one of Mumbai’s last remaining green lungs. All these plans were BJP-led.

After the June deluge, BJP leaders got back at the Sena, questioning the monsoon preparedness of the civic body and potholes on roads. The standoff turned ugly.

If what is happening over the past few months is an indication, the battle for the Mumbai civic body may well be the second turning point in Sena-BJP relations after their bitter divorce before the assembly polls and the equally bitter reunion after the elections.

The resolve to work for “a Sena-led majority government” articulated by Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray in his three-part interview series in the party’s mouthpiece, Saamnaa, lays the ground for it. For the Sena to remain politically relevant, it needs to maintain its two-decade rule over its political turf, Mumbai. For this, it will need to ensure that the BJP does not grow bigger and encroach on its space.

For BJP, this will be the test for chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. From pushing vertical growth in the city to bringing in a financial centre, to a coastal road with a metro, Fadnavis is creating an election campaign document for his party.

On his part, Thackeray has sounded the bugle for the civic polls. “This is a clear tactic to prepare the Sena to face the 2017 BMC elections on its own. The BMC is the financial lifeline for the Sena and the only strong political ground it has, being the national financial centre. It is the only reason why it still enjoys ‘access’ and remains relevant to the BJP too,” said political analyst Surendra Jondhale.

Political sources in both parties indicate that at this moment, an assembly style multi-cornered election is likely with the BJP, the Sena, the Congress, the NCP, and the MNS all slugging it out.

The BJP-Sena will never be able to agree on seat distribution given the new equations: the BJP has one assembly seat more than the Sena from Mumbai – 15 to 14. And the BJP can be expected to demand an equal share of the BMC seats, if not more, this time around.

Currently in the 227-member BMC, the Shiv Sena has 75 seats (it contested 135) and the BJP 32 (it contested 69).While the Congress secured 50 seats, NCP finished with just 14. Raj Thackeray’s MNS got 28.

“It is clear that BJP will do a repeat of what it did in the assembly elections, take the Sena along till 2017 and then leave it. But we will need to wait and see how the BJP fares in the Bihar elections. If the BJP cannot form a government there, then it could send a conciliatory signal to all its partners in the NDA including the Sena,” said analyst Prakash Bal.

While the BMC elections are still a year and a half away, the pace is picking up and both the parties are gearing up for the big fight.

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