Sena dithers, BJP brags, Congress supplicates as parleys begin for MCGM crown
Having secured a fractured mandate in the recently held election, the key players in the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai are seeking out possible allies.
Although the Shiv Sena has emerged as the single largest party, it has fared only marginally better than the BJP, leading to a deadlock in the MCGM. Neither party can take power on its own, and though they are partners in the state government, neither party appears inclined to ally with the other in the municipal body.
Enter the Congress. The grand old party took a beating in the election, falling from 52 seats to 31, but is now emerging as the potential kingmaker.
The Sena had walked out of its alliance with the BJP, claiming it would get a clear majority on its own. So certain were the party's leadership of victory, or so it seemed, they did not care much for burning bridges with the BJP. In fact, they went all out in attacking the BJP leadership, with the choicest of phrases reserved for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.
At a campaign meeting in Goregaon on 26 January, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray went to the extent of pledging never to partner the BJP again.
Apparently, he was given to understand that appealing to the Marathi voters' pride – Marathi Manoos – and hardselling the “work” done for Mumbaikars would get his party over the line. It turned out to be a miscalculation, to put it mildly. The Sena added just nine seats to its tally of 75 in the previous house.
In stark contrast, the calm and focused campaign led by Fadnavis delivered impressively for the BJP – the party gained 50 seats, raising its tally from 31 in the last house to 82.
The BJP's performance came at the expense of the Congress, the NCP and Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, whose tallies dropped from 52, 14 and 28 seats, respectively to 31, nine and seven.
The half-way mark in the MCGC is 114, which means that alliances for power are inevitable. And as it stands today, the Congress is in the most beneficial position.
Indeed, the party's state chief Ashok Chavan has already indicated support to the Shiv Sena. His offer, though, comes with a rider: the Sena must walk out of the BJP-led governments in both Maharashtra as well as at the Centre.
Uddhav hasn't discounted the possibility. “The Congress has hinted that it will support us,” he said. “I have not yet taken a decision on alliance, with Congress or any other party. What is the hurry?”
Ashok Chavan's offer was bolstered by senior Congress leaders Narayan Rane and Sanjay Nirupam. But another party heavyweight Gurudas Kamat opposed it. “I have strong objection to any tie-up with the Shiv Sena in the MCGM, even indirect support,” Kamat said, adding by way of explanation, “We have all along fought against both these saffron parties, the BJP and the Shiv Sena, for their divisive policies. The people will not spare us if we even attempt to align with them. Let them sort out their problems by themselves, and, in the process, expose themselves and their lust for power.”
Kamat said he has conveyed his opinion to Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi.
Asked about the prospect of his party allying with the Sena, a state Congress leader, who requested not to be named because he wasn't authorised to speak with the press, explained: “All those people among us who were previously with the Shiv Sena are eager to align with their parent party. We, the hardcore Congressmen, are against it. We feel the leaders who joined us from the Sena are trying to take the Congress down.”
His faction appears to be winning the argument. After Kamat's statement, many Congress leaders who had spoken in favour of allying with the BJP back-pedalled on Saturday.
In all this frenzy, the BJP is an interested but quiet spectator, or so is the impression being conveyed. A late night meeting at the residence of CM Fadnavis Friday reportedly led to a consensus that the BJP should wait for the Shiv Sena to make its move. A senior BJP leader who attended the meeting said the dominant view in the party is that the Sena should be left to decide “whether it wants to go with Congress as that will end the dispute once and for all”.
The leader, who requested anonymity because he was disclosing confidential information, added, “Shiv Sena leaders were arrogant all along the campaign and make derogatory statements against our leaders. It is now time to show them their place. I have told the party leadership to wait and watch. We will not initiate an alliance with the Shiv Sena. They broke the alliance, now the onus is on them to start the reconciliation process. We will take a decision on it when the proposal comes.”
The thinking in the BJP is that the longer the Shiv Sena takes to decide on an alliance, the more restlessness its leaders and cadre will grow. “We know that Shiv Sena cannot claim a majority on its own. It has to align with some or the other party. And that will be the biggest defeat for Uddhav Thackeray as he had pledged not to form an alliance with any political party,” the senior BJP leader said. “As for us, we are ready to sit in the opposition.”
Not that the party has much choice, anyway. If the Sena refuses to patch-up, it would be nearly impossible for the BJP to take power, simply because the only other party with enough seats to carry it over the line is the Congress, its chief nemesis nationally. It hardly needed saying, of course, but Fadnavis has nonetheless clarified: “Those who want to join hands with the Congress are free to do so. We won't stop them. But the people voted us to power because of corruption by the Congress and the NCP. It will amount to back-stabbing the voters if we align with the Congress.”
Still, as the saying goes, politics is the art of the possible.
Edited by Mehraj D Lone