It was certain to come as a jolt to BJP and RPI leaders involved in efforts to bring together estranged cousins Uddhav and Raj Thackeray, when the Shiv Sena mouthpiece, of which the party chief is the editor, lambasted any such attempts in an uncharacteristic style. The sharply worded piece appeared last week and was enough to convey that no leader from the grand alliance should ever dare to speak on bringing Shiv Sena and MNS together.
Ever since Raj quit Shiv Sena and chose a different path in state politics, a number of efforts have been made to bring the warring cousins together. There even appeared the semblance of a truce when both of them avoided speaking against each other.
It’s not that RPI leader Ramdas Athawale is naive enough not to understand the kind of relationship Uddhav and Raj maintain. Even then he made a statement last week welcoming Raj Thackeray-led MNS into the grand alliance. Initially, one thought the RPI leader’s change of heart could be part of a larger game plan to invite Raj to join the grand alliance. But what followed has changed the political scenario for the time being.
Athawale chose his words carefully when he said Sena, BJP and RPI’s grand alliance was competent to unseat the Congress-NCP government, but that MNS’ help was needed to come to power. At this, Uddhav sardonically asked whether BJP and RPI were ready to part with their share in the alliance and give it to MNS. “It should not be like that. You will invite the guest and ask Shiv Sena to provide accommodation and food for him,” he said.
This means that even if MNS were to join the grand alliance, Shiv Sena would not offer seats from its quota to share power. Instead, BJP and RPI would have to offer from their quotas. This is enough to put a full stop to any plans of a political merger, since BJP and RPI may find it tough to offer seats from their respective quotas.
Furthermore, Athawale has gone too far by proclaiming that he is going to be the next deputy chief minister if the grand alliance comes to power.
This may upset the applecart since the age-old formula between Sena and BJP dictates that whoever wins the most number of assembly seats will stake its claim for the chief minister’s post, and the party in the second position will get the post of his deputy.
The RPI leader has already claimed the second spot.
In fact, both BJP and RPI should try to understand that it is most unlikely for the cousins to come together, since it did not happen even when Sena patriarch Bal Thackeray was alive and had stated his desire to see both of them unite.
There is only one possibility: MNS aligns with BJP, Shiv Sena and RPI as a fourth partner on its own terms and conditions after the elections. In any case, Raj is not going to lose his position and compromise on his party’s identity.
And yes, there are certain hidden factors for which RPI and BJP have been speaking of joining forces with MNS. For BJP, speaking in favour of MNS is essential to keep its Marathi party workers and voters in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Thane belt in good stead – the three cities together have more than 60 assembly seats and 10 Lok Sabha seats.
The party leadership has been worried over the fact that wherever BJP and MNS fought against each other during 2009 Lok Sabha and assembly elections, the Marathi votes went in favour of MNS.
For RPI, the doors to the power corridors appear open since survey reports have favoured the grand alliance when elections to Lok Sabha and the state assembly are due next year.
Athawale has been active in state politics since 1990 and knows it better that unless Raj aligns with the grand alliance, the government is not going to be stable. But Athawale forgot that a few months back he strongly opposed any attempt to bring together Uddhav and Raj. He had also raised the issue of Raj’s barbed comments against RPI’s demand for Indu Mill land for Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s memorial.
Such an atmosphere of distrust between major opposition parties in Maharashtra can only affect their credibility. Despite a highly favourable atmosphere for the opposition to wrest power from Congress-NCP, the ego clashes and the inordinate enthusiasm will only ruin their chances.
The power will come their way more due to an anti-establishment factor, than the efficiency of the opposition to nail the government.
The fact is evident in the way the Sena leadership is handling the issue of racecourse land for a Thackeray memorial.
The party has failed to turn the wave of sympathy in its favour after its patriarch departed.
— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY