Ravikiran DeshmukhEver since Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray — who had complaints of chest pain — was visited at hospital on July 16 and then driven home by estranged cousin Raj, there has been a perceptible change of heart at the party level towards the MNS chief. Once again it has been proven that blood is thicker than water.

It’s certain that MNS and Sena will have a major role to play in the upcoming general elections. The language used by Sena publicly towards MNS is of newfound affection and compassion. Supporters of both parties were astonished when Sena mouthpiece Saamna covered the MNS morcha and rally at Azad Maidan recently against the August 11 riot, and performance of home department led by RR Patil and the then police commissioner Arup Patnaik.

Also, the reaction thereafter by Uddhav Thackeray exuded respect for his cousin’s impressive show rather than any political one-upmanship. It was also an emotional moment for thousands of Shiv Sainiks who have always sought unity among the warring brothers ever since they parted ways in 2005.

So what’s in store now? If all goes well, MNS will certainly be an asset to the more than 25-yr-old Sena-BJP alliance. Uddhav too appears to have convinced himself that there’s no point in feeding the animosity further. He was quite mellow in reacting to media queries on the MNS rally. Also, he needs to pay attention towards his health, as doctors are believed to have advised him to go for a bypass surgery, since the angioplasty will not be a permanent solution.

All said and done, it was clearly an initiative by Bal Thackeray to bridge the rift between the cousins. At the age of 86, the Sena patriarch may want another term for his party in power for which a divided Sena will be a major obstacle.

MNS has a strong presence among young voters, being more attacking and result-oriented. Those confident of an alliance are already speculating whether it would be before or after the polls, due to a probable clash of interests in Mumbai, Thane, Pune and Nashik belt. Raj’s MNS has the largest presence in the belt and this was evident in the composition of the participants in the August 21 rally and morcha.

Sena-BJP leaders have admitted in the past that they lost around 60 seats due to division of votes between the combine and MNS in the 2009 elections for the state assembly. BJP appeared to be the biggest loser as die-hard Shiv Sainiks tried their best to ensure their organisation did not suffer due to the presence of MNS. The BJP leadership has accepted the fact and since then the party has never criticised Raj or MNS and has always tried to extend an olive branch. BJP leaders Gopinath Munde, Eknath Khadse, Vinod Tawde and Sudhir Mungantiwar have hardly let go of any opportunities to show their affection towards MNS.

While BJP chief Nitin Gadkari has always shared an excellent rapport with Raj, Leader of Opposition in the state assembly Eknath Khadse has ensured joint meetings of opposition parties involving MNS whenever possible.

At times when the state has been in need of a fierce Opposition, MNS has stepped forward to take on the mantle. When the party was being termed an idle organisation, it took up the issue of toll payments and now the government has decided to install electronic display system at all the tollbooths for much demanded transparency. And it’s also important to note that Raj submitted the survey results to CM Prithviraj Chavan, with whom he shares a good rapport, and not with NCP that is heading the PWD and MSRDC since 1999.

The relations between Congress and MNS have always been a talking point in political circles. The ruling party hasn’t faced any real threat from Raj, and since the days of late CM Vilasrao Deshmukh has used every possible opportunity to pump up MNS adrenaline to keep Sena and BJP in check.

Now the party is skillfully using the ‘weapon’ against alliance partner NCP as the issues pertaining to the Azad Maidan violence showed. But any alliance between MNS, Sena and BJP may prove disastrous for the ruling Congress-NCP. The only hope for DF is the image of Prithviraj Chavan as an honest CM and someone sincere enough to do something of consequence. NCP on the other hand is finding it difficult to cope with the present situation, as one of its poster boys R R Patil is in the dock over the home department’s performance coupled with a string of maladies in ministries held by its leaders, such as PWD, irrigation and energy.

— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY