Dharmendra Jore: Match-fixings and strange political bedfellows

Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s calculated praise of UPA has caught his political opponents off guard

Sena president Uddhav Thackeray’s praise has rubbed both the BJP and the Congress the wrong way. File pic
Sena president Uddhav Thackeray’s praise has rubbed both the BJP and the Congress the wrong way. File pic

Uddhav Thackeray played it smart and how! Last week, he brought the Congress into the news, much to the chagrin of both the Congress and the BJP. When the Sena president appreciated the former central Congress government’s performance and said he would never insult former PM Manmohan Singh the way Prime Minister Narendra Modi did in Parliament, Congress leaders said they did not need the Sena’s certificate, fearing that it would lead to splitting of votes. The BJP sees this as Uddhav’s deliberate effort to show the Congress in better light than the Modi government, and called it a ‘fixed match’ between the Congress and the Sena.

Thackeray’s move was a calculated one, and it caught his opponents off guard. What he did was to affirm a popular perception that the Congress had always been content in conceding the BMC to the Sena, even when the Gandhi-led party was formidable. Political historians recall several instances in which the Congress’ central and state leaderships discretely helped Sena founder, late Bal Thackeray, in reigning as Mumbai’s undisputed champion. In the recent past, Congress CMs were much cosier in their approach to the Thackerays. The bonhomie had always been a bone of contention and cause for criticism.

This time what seems to have given Thackeray a lead in adopting a strategy - very effective for those who foresee its undercurrent and effectiveness - is a prompt rejoinder that it received from the Congress. Looking at its list of candidates, the Congress desperately needs voters from the anti-Sena camp - say Muslims and north Indians -because of multiple players in the fray.

Odd choice
Whom did one expect to deliver the Sena a strong response? Interestingly, it came from ex-CM Prithviraj Chavan, who has been accused of being very supportive of the Thackerays. And, of course, Chavan was accompanied by Sanjay Nirupam, the president of Mumbai Congress, ex-Sena MP, who is constantly put under the scanner by his party colleagues for being allegedly close to the Sena chieftain.

In fact, the BJP started it all when candidates of all parties were finalised. Its Mumbai president, Ashish Shelar, alleged that the Congress and the Sena had a ‘match-fixing’ in 42 of 227 wards. He said weak candidates were given there to benefit either the Sena or the Congress and ensure the BJP’s loss. The Sena and the Congress have denied allegations, but have shirked from accepting the BJP’s challenge for debating the ‘fixing’ charges on a public platform.

Where is the Congress?
Let’s assume that there is a tacit understanding between some parties for the BMC polls for toppling the BJP juggernaut. The Sena and the Congress are the main players in this drama because the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) is on its way to oblivion. The MNS had played a spoiler for the Sena - allegedly at the behest of the ruling Congress then - in the Lok Sabha and assembly polls.

Going by its mobilisation at the grassroots level, the Sena is going very strong and the BJP is trying to close the gap through hard efforts. There is method to their madness. The unity of leadership is proving a driving force for workers and unilateral command centres in both the Sena and the BJP are effective when it comes to execution of tasks.

But, where does the Congress stand on these parameters? It stands on a low perch because even smaller parties, like the AIMIM, are doing much better in terms of a unified campaign. Away from media glare, which is focused on the Sena-BJP slugfest, the rallies of Owaisi brothers have hit the audiences hard. On the other hand, Congress workers are divided in their approach, method and campaign. With the high command’s priorities firmly placed elsewhere, it’s a free run for local senior leaders. Some leaders are not only working for their own candidates, but also seeing to it that those associated with their rivals in the party do not win.

When asked about it, a senior Congress leader said, “Do you know what we have established over the years? It’s a catch line that says ‘only Congress can beat Congress’. Most of the times we live up to the popular saying. Winning doesn’t give us a kick, but what ups our spirits is the defeat of rivals within the party.”

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

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