For Uddhav Thackeray, known for his reticence to take on the BJP, the split ahead of the state assembly polls was his boldest political move yet. Unwilling to accept the BJP’s contribution to his party’s 18-seat haul in the Lok Sabha, Uddhav instead spoke about the Sena’s contribution to the victory of 42 NDA MPs in Maharashtra.
“That was pointless, because eight of his former MPs were in touch with NCP for tickets for the 2014 elections, and it was only after sensing the Modi wave that they decided to stay back in the party,” a Sena MP later told this reporter privately.
Fearing the further weakening of his party if he toed the BJP line in the assembly polls, Uddhav launched a special drive in June to reach out to every village and household by opening Shiv Sena shakhas (branches).
So, all was decided and the split was done in the spirit of a calculated risk. Uddhav’s optimism came from the confidence that the Sena would win on the basis of the support of the Marathi manoos and because of Marathi asmita (pride) — two things that had served the party very well in its illustrious history.
Yesterday, however, the Sena realised that the gamble had backfired. The most embarrassing fact for the party in the state assembly poll results was that the BJP has become the number one party even in Mumbai, where the ‘Marathi’ spirit is higher than anywhere else in the state.
The BJP breached Sena bastion Thane, winning a seat there, did well in Nasik, and completely swept Pune and Nagpur, the other major cities in the state. What this meant was the issue of overall development overtook the issue of ‘Marathi vs non-Marathi’.
Attempts were made to stoke the Marathi asmita issue through a campaign hinting that Gujaratis Narendra Modi and Amit Shah were trying to take over the reins of Mumbai and were making all out efforts to woo industrialists to shift to Gujarat. If all these things had convinced voters, the BJP would have bitten the dust, especially in the big cities.
But the Sena campaign clearly failed to have the desired impact on the Marathi vote bank.
On the other hand, the non-Marathis, particularly the ‘Uttar Bharatiyas’ ,voted in favour of the BJP in such a big way that even some Congress stalwarts, known for their clout amongst this category of voters, lost miserably to the BJP.
In one of his media interactions before the polls, Uddhav had asked why the Modi wave did not work in West Bengal, Odisha and Tamil Nadu. He wanted to be the Mamata Banerjee, Navin Patnaik or J Jayalalithaa for the state, but his gambit failed. The voters, particularly youngsters and women, voted for the BJP.
Tactics in question
During his campaign, Uddhav focused on snapping of ties and backstabbing by the BJP, but spent little time criticising the Congress and NCP, even though voters were fed up with the parties’ rule and were in a mood to dethrone them.
The Sena also tried to raise the issue of Hindutva and questioned BJP’s commitment to it. This was also a calculated move, as the late Bal Thackeray was known as a Hindutva icon, which had helped the party expand its base.
Shiv Sena made every attempt to corner the BJP — be it the Marathi or non-Marathi issue, or using Chhatrapati Shivaji’s name during the campaigning. But, voters ignored all of those things.
Even the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena lost in a big way and risked becoming irrelevant in state politics. Raj Thackeray, too, had increased his party’s base in the name of Marathi pride and language. But, the BJP’s victory has made it clear that voters have given precedence to development. Clearly, this is a warning for both the Shiv Sena and MNS.
For Congress, the emergence of Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) is a major blow. Disenchantment of the youth with the party, which always took pride in securing a large chunk of the minority vote, paved the way for the MIM to spread its wings in Mumbai, Thane, Aurangabad and Nanded, and led to it winning two seats in its debut election in the state.
The writer is Political Editor of mid-day