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Politics
 
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MAHARASHTRA: CIVIC ELECTIONS
Games that politicians play
The recent civic elections in Maharashtra have been a serious setback for the Congress-NCP combine. Meanwhile, the victory of Shiv Sena-BJP and the rise of MNS could trigger an unpredictable political realignment for the 2014 assembly polls.
Issue Date - 15/03/2012
 
The spectacular performance of the Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navanirman Sena in the recent municipal election has changed the political dynamics of Maharashtra. The biggest achievement that they would gloat over is the spectacular performance of Shiv Sena-BJP in Mumbai and Thane, where they have already been winning for sixteen years at a stretch. The Congress was very keen to wrest power from the Shiv Sena in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), which is India’s richest civic body. Its 2011-12 budget was a whopping Rs.220 billion – equivalent to that of the northeastern states and Goa combined. However, a spate of developments, which have been taking place in this state, have also thrown up some intriguing questions about how these civic elections could affect political equations in the state and beyond.

The first question that comes to mind is the debacle faced by the Congress-NCP alliance. In the run up to the polls, there were several apprehensions that the two were not seeing eye to eye even though they had decided to contest together. Also, the Congress seemingly missed out on the local sentiment and also that of the so-called ‘immigrants’. Congress MP Sanjay Nirupam admits, “The reason why Shiv Sena emerged victorious in the civic elections is because the Congress somehow failed to enthuse the large number of North Indian voters to vote for them. On the other hand, traditional voters of Maharashtra fully supported the Sena while their younger lot voted in a big way for the MNS.”

According to Raj Thackeray, the reason why the NCP-Congress made a poor show in Mumbai was because of their double standards. “The two parties had a pre-poll alliance in Mumbai, but in Pune, they contested against each other. The voters disapproved of their double standards and supported us,” he told the media in Pune. According to political observers, the main reasons why the Congress had to bite the dust in many places is because of five reasons – consolidation of Marathi voters against the Congress, wrong selection of candidates for the election, infighting between the Congress and NCP, lack of charismatic leaders to take on the Shiv Sena and MNS and lack of a proper electoral mechanism.


 
On the other hand, the million dollar question is – what are BJP and MNS up to? Is the BJP trying to distance itself slowly away from the Shiv Sena and inching closer to the MNS in the wake of the latter’s growing clout? Recently, NCP leader Sharad Pawar in an interview to a Marathi channel said, “BJP is going to adopt a wait and watch attitude as far as Shiv Sena and MNS are concerned. Between them, they are likely to show their tilt towards that party, which has better clout.” It was BJP leader Pramod Mahajan who was the architect of the Sena-BJP alliance in Maharashtra. He was also the main connecting point between the two parties. But after his death, relations between the two parties have been turbulent. They were on the verge of breaking up in 2007 when Shiv Sena announced its support to Pratibha Patil for President. Nitin Gadkari, who was then the Maharashtra BJP President, had said, “The Shiv Sena chief had earlier said that he would support Sharad Pawar for the post of President. Now he has decided to support UPA’s candidate Pratibha Patil. Shiv Sena has to decide if they want an alliance with us or with Congress.”

One of the reasons why rumours are agog in the political circles is because it has been seen that Raj Thackeray has been working overtime to create an image that he is a great admirer of Gujarat CM Narendra Modi. On September 19 last year, he attended a programme in Ahmedabad wherein he said that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi could become a good Prime Minister and MNS would be happy to support him. “I have come to convey my good wishes to Modiji. I had called him after the Supreme Court’s order (in Gulberg Society riot case). After the certificate from the Supreme Court, Modi does not need anybody else’s certificate,” Raj told reporters after meeting Modi. The MNS chief had also toured Gujarat extensively to see the development in the state first-hand, and had praised Modi’s leadership. Later, when he addressed the election campaign for MNS in Pune, he spent a lot of time praising Modi’s development initiatives.

Recently, BJP President Nitin Gadkari, who is a friend of Raj, expressed serious reservations on the criticism of BJP, which has been appearing in Saamana, and said that such criticism was uncalled for. He also stated in the media that it is becoming increasingly difficult for him to get in touch with Balasaheb Thackeray. BJP spokesman Madhav Bhandari, when contacted by B&E, denied that they had any plans to dump Sena in the assembly elections and join hands with MNS and said that this is nothing but a ploy by Raj Thackeray to create a wedge between Shiv Sena and BJP and woo middle class Maharashtrian voters. He added, “BJP has been with Shiv Sena for more than two decades and there is no reason why this alliance should not continue. Besides, looking at the manner in which MNS has been attacking North Indian people in Mumbai, no national party will be able to have an alliance with them”. But he asserts that if Shiv Sena and MNS reach some sort of settlement to have electoral ties, then there could be a possibility that the 2014 assembly election would be fought with BJP-Shiv Sena and MNS together as an alliance.

Now that looks a fairly tough call at the moment, considering how deep the rift between Shiv Sena and MNS really is, even though it was never intended that way in the days when Raj actually started rising up the ranks in Shiv Sena and in Balasaheb’s eyes. When Bal Thackeray used to draw political cartoons for his popular Marathi weekly Marmik, he noticed that his young nephew Raj, too, had an amazing flair for drawing cartoons laced with wit, humour and sarcasm. Thrilled by his nephew’s talent, he gave him enough tips on cartooning. Today, Thackeray might still have admiration for the cartoonist in Raj, but questions still remain on whether he accepts the worth of the articulate politician in Raj.
          

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