Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis fires up his base that has led him to resounding victories in both the 2014 state Assembly polls and last year’s zilla and council elections
Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis fires up his base that has led him to resounding victories in both the 2014 state Assembly polls and last year’s zilla and council elections

It took the BJP 25 years to walk out of the shadow of the Shiv Sena. But now that it has, it is starting to tower over it. Slowly, over the last three years, the party has grown into the biggest party — not just at national (282 MPs) and state (123 MLAs) levels — but its growth spurt in the city, with 15 MLAs, is remarkable, too.

The rift begins
Flashback to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, when the state BJP won 23 MP seats, with Mumbai capturing three of the six contested slots. Post victory, in the state Assembly polls, the BJP and Sena couldn't agree to an amenable seat-sharing number, leading to a split. But, in a twist, the BJP managed to secure twice as many seats as the Sena. They went on to form a post poll alliance.

However, the last few days seem to be a replay of those days with the BJP demanding more than the 60 seats that the Sena was willing to part with. The BJP, on its part, claimed it was an insult. Political analyst Dr Surendra Jondhale said, "Earlier, the BJP was playing second fiddle to the Sena. Now, it is in position to assert itself and show its political privilege." With no conclusion in sight, they went their separate ways, yet again.

BJP's strengths
Over the last two years, the party has built a core cadre base and used technology as a tool to recruit. Additionally, it has started showing confidence when tackling the previously untouchable Thackerays. With Mumbai unit president Ashish Shelar and MP Kirit Somaiya leading the charge, the emboldened party voiced concerns against scams like the nullah cleaning scam, road repair scam, water tanker mafia; launching attacks not just on Sena leaders, but relatives and close aides of the Thackerays.

Sena leader Nana Ambole joined the BJP after he was not given a Sena ticket
Sena leader Nana Ambole joined the BJP after he was not given a Sena ticket

Meanwhile, it has also not shied away from deviating from its ally over several core issues like nightlife and rooftop policy, open space, Metro Rail project-3, Aarey car depot, and the city's development plan and parking policy.

Jondhale said, "The BJP has a concrete plan for the elections. They declared their smart city programme, coastal road, and talked about transparency. Ultimately, if they are in power at the Centre as well as the state, then why not in the financial capital?"

Sena failed to fight back
But, even as the BJP kept punching its ally, the Sena neither came back with a fitting response, nor did it call off the alliance. The other major reason for BJP's meteoric rise was the Sena's weak leadership in the BMC: After senior corporators Rahul Shewale and Sunil Prabhu went on to become MP and MLA respectively, the party offered no real leaders to take charge. A Sena insider said, "Yashodhar Phanse, Trushna Vishwasrao and Mayor Snehal Ambekar could not bring aggression and intelligence to the conversation when the BJP opposed on major issues. This weak opposition allowed BJP to grow."

The desirable factor
In its prep to go to battle alone, the BJP has been luring unhappy and sidelined leaders, mostly the 'Marathi manoos', from the Sena and MNS. In the last six months, 12 sitting corporators from all parties and independents have come into the BJP fold.

In the latest such move, three senior and loyal Sena leaders — two-term corporator Sanjay Ambole, Bablu Panchal and former corporator Prabhakar Shinde — joined the BJP just two days shy of filing nominations. Speaking to mid-day, Ambole said, "I am impressed with BJP's plan of making the city better. The party has given me lot of respect and they understood my work. In Sena, I was feeling uneasy because of our local MLA Ajay Choudhary's move to finish my career."

The challenges ahead
The biggest challenge that the BJP faces ahead will be pitching 227 worthy candidates that can project the party's new image as the dominant force. A senior party leader said, "In the last few months, the party has poached many leaders. Now, these people have got tickets even though they have not worked for the party yet. So many local party workers have expressed anger over it."

"The elections will also be a litmus test for the BJP to see if it can crack the state independently in 2019," said Jondhale. Plus, it will also expose the party's standing post demonetisation as many traditional voters were upset about the policy and have since shifted allegiance to Sena. February 21 is going to be a big day for the BJP.