Maharashtra CM Shinde and several high-ranking BJP officials visited Raj Thackeray this week. There’s speculation about an alliance or at the very least, a tacit agreement with MNS prior to the civic elections.
Mumbai: In Maharashtra’s political climate the 10-day Ganesh Chaturthi celebration is not simply a celebration. The “courtesy calls” that politicians make to each other’s homes provide a glimpse of the actions that take place behind the scenes.
The ‘Ganpati diplomacy’ of this year offers a hint of the Bharatiya Jnanata Party’s (BJP’s) plan to diminish the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena — already weakened by an uprising under the leadership of the Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and strengthen its position ahead of Mumbai civic polls that are scheduled to take place later in the year. A Raj Thackeray led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) is the main player in the game plan.
A variety of BJP leaders met together with MNS Chief Raj Thackeray last week. CM Shinde who was the leader of the division into verticals within the Shiv Sena, and BJP Mumbai president Ashish Shelar also paid visits to the home of Raj Thackeray to celebrate the Ganesh festival.
Although these leaders have not made any public statements about their visit Insiders within the BJP and of the rebel Shinde led Shiv Sena faction, as and the MNS are of the opinion that the visits and meetings have been “political posturing” to visibly move the MNS close to ruling party. The MNS claims that it is able to be a spoiler to the Thackeray-led Shiv Sena by cutting into the former’s Marathi Hindu vote bank, similar to what it did in the past.
For the troubled MNS which has been stuck in a slump since 2014, this is an opportunity to reenergize its own political life.
“They [the BJPare working to boost the importance of Raj Saheb. A Thackeray to their side can aid them in their fight with Uddhav Saheb during the civic polls. This is an all-win situation for the people of India,” a senior MNS official said to ThePrint without wishing to be identified.
“Whether this will happen by way of an alliance open to all or through a tacit understanding, we aren’t sure at this point. At the moment they’re trying to create that atmosphere through a smug stance,” he added.
“Will come together in one way or another’
In the last week, senior BJP leaders like Vinod Tawde, the party’s National general secretary, as well as Chandrashekhar Bwankule one of the BJP state president who attended a visit by Raj Thackeray at his residence on Tuesday and Monday.
In addition, BJP Mumbai president Shelar and MLC of the party Prasad Lad also visited Raj Thackeray on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.
CM Shinde also made a official visit on Thursday.
When asked about an alliance possible with MNS in an alliance for Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) election that is taking place in the context of these meetings, Fadnavis told reporters in Pune Friday “There isn’t any discussion on our part. Most likely, there’s a discussion on your part.”
A BJP official said to ThePrint, “The MNS will join hands with the BJP for the election one way or the other, either in an alliance or through an understanding for some seats.”
MNS to complement the Shinde’s Sena for Mumbai
This time it seems that the BJP is determinedly pursuing the BMC which was governed by the Shiv Sena government for over 25 years, until an administrator was appointed to take the reins in March of this year, after the term of the body’s general members ended.
The Shinde-led revolt has damaged Thackeray’s Shiv Sena to a large extent, the two sides are fighting in court to preserve the symbol the Shinde group is not as powerful as the Thackeray-led Shiv Sena in Mumbai.
Although 5 of Shiv Sena’s 14 MLAs from Mumbai have joined the Shinde camp however, the party’s ground cadre and its shakhas for wards — the highest rung of their administrative divisions remain committed to Thackeray’s Shiv Sena.
It is believed that the MNS is trying to capitalize on the division in of the Shiv Sena, protecting Raj Thackeray as the true inheritor of Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray and his uncle.
The MNS has took on the Hindutva agenda and changed the flag of the party to saffron at the beginning of 2020. The party has stressed its support for the Hindutva ideology, by bringing Raj Thackeray into issues like loudspeakers in mosques. The MNS also initiated an appeal for members calling “Hindavi rakshaks” and “Maharashtra Sevaks’ to join its party.
Another MNS functionary said to ThePrint, “The Shinde camp is also in need of us, as they are aware that they don’t have the necessary cadre in Mumbai. We’re also not in the political discourse until recently. The past was related to The BJP along with The Shiv Sena. It was then more about Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) and the BJP. With the Shiv Sena split now in place, we have finally a an opportunity to be visible as a political entity once more.”
A MLA in the Shinde camp told the Shinde camp, “We are expanding in Mumbai however we are aware that this isn’t our forte. The MNS has had a negative impact on Shiv Sena’s chances in Mumbai earlier and BJP leaders believe it will repeat the same mistake.”
“The MNS doesn’t have enough power to be a nuisance factor for the Uddhav Saheb-led group in Mumbai. Therefore, we’re not in any way threatened,” he told ThePrint under an anonymity basis.
MNS has been a spoiler in the past for Shiv Sena during the time of its existence.
The MNS was founded in 2006, following Raj Thackeray walked out of the Shiv Sena, following Bal Thackeray’s decision to anoint the son to be his successor. The MNS played the Shiv Sena’s’sons on the soil and the ‘Marathi pride’ card more aggressively that Shiv Sena itself, and enjoyed some success in the beginning.
In 2009’s Lok Sabha elections, the MNS put forward 11 candidates, none which was elected, however the party did get the public to pay attention by destroying Shiv Sena’s chances in a number of seats. In the elections for the assembly the following year the MNS contest 143 seats and also had 13 MLAs elected to the state assembly on its first attempt.
In 2012 BMC elections in 2012, the MNS got 28 of the 227 wards. They also beat in the race against the Shiv Sena in all six wards of the latter’s stronghold that includes Dadar as well as Mahim.
The party has suffered defeat after defeat since 2014.
In 2014’s Lok Sabha polls, the party had 10 candidates on the ballot who all had their deposits wiped out. In the elections for the assembly the year before the party was able to contest 219 of the 288 seats. losing deposits on 209 seats, but losing only one.
At the time of 2017 BMC elections, too, MNS’ fortunes continued to sink with the total of the party decreasing to seven corporators. six of them were a part of to the Shiv Sena later that year.
The party decided to not participate in this year’s Lok Sabha election, it contests 100 seats during the Maharashtra assembly elections in the same year. However, it this time, it only won one seat.