Dharmendra Jore: BJP makes a winning start, will Sena bounce back?

Updated: Dec 26, 2016, 08:14 IST | Dharmendra Jore

BJP cold-shoulders the Thackeray-led party in Shivaji memorial event, tries to win locals and ensures that non-Marathi voters too are wooed ahead of BMC polls

The BJP showed yet again that it has mastered the art of appropriating things that may help its political upsurge. The bhoomipujan of Shivaji Maharaj Memorial and the city’s big ticket infrastructure projects should go a long way if we were to remember it for excellence in conduct and largesse. But what hit our ears was political overtones that the ground-breaking ceremony sounded loud and clear. Saying that the BJP launched its campaign for the BMC polls may be a rhetoric, but calling the function a successful attempt of suppressing a depleted Shiv Sena further will be more appropriate.

Apart from pushing the Sena into a corner, the BJP hit many birds in a single throw. With government machinery at its disposal, the cadres were mobilised on a mammoth scale to establish that the BJP alone cared for a cause that a restive Maratha community has been fighting for through silent marches across the state. A publicity blitzkrieg by the government and generous funding by party leaders ensured that the workers and leaders painted towns saffron, a colour that is synonymous with Hindutva and the Sena’s official party flag. The BJP’s official party flags, banners and hoardings dominated roads, highways and flyovers.

BJP outnumbered sainiks
The BJP workers outnumbered the sainiks wherever event or two was held. The cold-shouldering of the Sena reflected in a dismal mood that the party’s Kalanagar headquarters couldn’t hide from public scrutiny. Sensing what the BJP was up to, an appeal was made to CM Devendra Fadnavis by the Sena MLAs that their party boss must be invited to the bhoomipujan. That very moment in Nagpur’s winter session proved that the BJP had made a winning start to the battle. The Sena tried gaining momentum, but failed in matching the BJP’s well-orchestrated series of events. The Sainiks waited for instructions so that they could respond to the ‘rivals’ in the same vein, but they were asked to follow restraint especially after a ruckus at the Ram Mandir railway station inauguration. And yet sparks flew at the BKC event —the workers from both parties played a slogan-shouting match before they were warned against repeating the act.

It was indeed a Catch-22 situation for the Sena which couldn’t afford to stay away from anything that is associated with Shivaji Maharaj. The Sena has been the only party that swore by the name of Shivaji Maharaj and worshipped Goddess Bhavani — the family deity of King Shivaji and Marathi-speaking population — since its inception. Protesting ill treatment, it had given a miss to the Ambedkar memorial’s bhoomipujan by PM Narendra Modi. The BJP knew that the Sena wouldn’t repeat the mistake and seek a favour to remain a self-proclaimed guardian of the sons of the soil.

At BKC, Modi avoided invoking late Balasaheb Thackeray as his predecessor in the BJP, Atal Bihari Vajpayee had done whenever he shared a dais with the late Sena chief. A cold-shoulder to the Sena leadership was prominently visible.

What appears clear now is that the BJP isn’t just trying to break into the Sena’s trusted vote bank of locals, but it is eyeing a bigger chunk of non-Marathi voters ahead of the BMC polls. For the first time, a Maharashtra Government’s publicity material such as videos played a voice-over in Hindi. The CM’s recorded message was in Hindi and so was MMRDA officer’s decoding of infra projects. While the PM tried to win over locals by beginning his speech in Marathi before switching over to Hindi, the CM switched over to Hindi from Marathi while making some specific points.

Multiple classes of voters
It also seems that a dominating presence of non-Marathi people in the BKC audience may yet again rewrite the BJP’s electoral fortunes. It was this particular category of voters that had significantly voted the BJP to a record number of MLAs from Mumbai in the 2014 Assembly polls. Saturday’s event catered to multiple classes of voters — one that reveres Shivaji Maharaj and may fall for emotional issues, the second that remains neutral to emotional appeals but prefers a party that promises development and the third that just blindly trusts Modi and his man in the state Fadnavis.

Call him sedate or unassuming, but when he was asked to speak, Thackeray played a wise move. He indicated that the BJP-controlled Centre and state were delaying the Sena-controlled projects like coastal roads even as they went to the town with their own schemes. He doubted the ability of Modi and Fadnavis in building the Shivaji memorial in a time-bound fashion saying that the task was harder than building Shivaji’s marine forts that had come up four centuries ago.

Battle lines are drawn, and this time prominently. It would be interesting to see whether Thackeray succumbs to the conditions that the BJP lays down if the two were to have a pre-poll alliance for the BMC polls.

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

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