Dharmendra Jore: Knives are still out. Don't be fooled by camaraderie

Continuation of Ashish Shelar as BJP’s city chief should ring the alarm bells for the Sena

Even as the champa (sonchafa) sampling that Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis planted together in Mahim Nature Park on July 1 is nursed to spread the fragrance of friendship between the two parties, the BJP and the Sena are nurturing their individual ambitions of outsmarting each other in next year’s Mumbai municipal polls.

The BJP has made its aggression known to the Sena in recent times, and now, it has decided to accelerate the tempo through a leader who it finds effortless and efficient in matching the Sena in many ways, be it through caustic words or quick action. Bandra legislator and incumbent city BJP chief Ashish Shelar will get yet another three-year term in the office on July 6 at a ceremony to be held at Shanmukhanand Hall. The city workers’ convention will also set the party’s agenda that does not need a foreteller to define because the rank and file is eager to pip the Sena to the post.

The BJP’s plan to expand its base in the city is in place. You will soon find the party taking ward- and block-level leaders in its fold. These leaders will bring some votes along and consolidate the BJP’s vote bank further. Sources in the BJP say these leaders have been identified, based on their local influence, religion, caste and ethnicity.

In Mumbai, ethnicity and religion play a definite role in electoral politics. Generally, voters get divided into sections such as Marathis (sons of the soil), Gujaratis, North Indians (this may include Biharis as well) and Marwaris. Religion may not always bind the Hindu voters together as they get split among the BJP, the Sena and other parties. Some parties such the Congress and the AIMIM treat Muslims as their exclusive vote banks.

Polarisation could be at its peak but not necessarily in all 227 civic wards.

In power at the Centre and in the state, the BJP factors in all possibilities and is preparing to win the BMC, which has an annual budget of R37,000 crore — a sum bigger than the budgets of some smaller states.

The civic body has been the Sena’s oxygen source for several decades. The Thackeray-led party will surely face a bigger crisis if the BJP manages to emerges as the single largest party. For the record, the BJP has more legislators in Mumbai than the Sena. The MLAs’ strength will be a bone of contention between the two if they ever try to share the 227 seats.

What will be the BJP’s plank for the BMC if it doesn’t get into a pre-election alliance? Undoubtedly, it will be development, says a senior BJP leader, who is one of the strategists. Despite being a minor partner in the BMC since long, the BJP will not take any blame for the city’s poor infrastructure and instead, it will hold the Sena responsible for the mess. For example, the BJP-led government has landed the Sena in a soup by launching criminal inquiries into roads and desilting scams. Roles played by contractors, BMC employees, including a former additional commissioner, are under the police scanner. However, it will be interesting to see if politicians in the BMC, too, are booked before the civic elections.

So far, the BJP appears far ahead of all other parties in preparing for the crucial elections. Very soon, its war rooms will get revved up with the activity that was seen during the 2014 elections. Shelar’s unit will have its war room exclusively for the city, while another war room, to be headed by MLA Mangal Prabhat Lodha, will oversee the polls in 12 cities, including Mumbai, and 25 zilla parishads across the state.

The BJP’s top star cast, including PM Narendra Modi, is expected to descend on Mumbai’s political turf this winter because the party’s national president, Amit Shah, has taken the challenge in Mumbai very seriously. Unlike the Dombivli-Kalyan polls, Fadnavis will get many able hands to work the strategy and execute it. Union minister Piyush Goyal, a Mumbaikar, will be the coordinator in Delhi. State ministers Vinod Tawde and Prakash Mehta, city MPs and some MLAs will team up with Shelar.

Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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