A day before polling to the BMC,there were jitters in the Congress-NCP alliance as some leaders felt their strategy to count on the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) causing a vertical split in the vote share of the Shiv Sena-BJP may have been a miscalculation after noises by the Thackerays about an eventual patch-up.
Much would depend on how the anti-incumbency wave plays out on Thursday and traditional Congress voters,including slumdwellers and minorities,voting in large numbers,the leaders said.
While the Congress had hoped that the MNS would win a significant percentage of votes though not many seats,Raj Thackerays mention of going a hundred steps to support uncle Balasaheb has led to fears in the Congress-NCP camp of a quiet reconciliation between the two Senas.
One factor is that the MNS engine has not picked up speed as expected, said a senior Congress leader. While Rajs rallies have seen the best turnouts by far,Congress and NCP leaders believe that the crowds are in fact MNS workers from across the city and may not translate into a significant vote share in every electoral ward. Also,Rajs usual rhetoric against migrants and aggressive wooing of the Marathi manoos has been missing from his speeches.
His response to his octogenarian uncles open invitation to return to the Sena could be posturing for a patch-up soon after elections,some Congressmen fear. The fact that he did not hotly oppose the suggestion of a return to the Sena fold is worrisome. He is shrewd enough to sense that the public invitation from Bal Thackeray could confuse voters who may have nearly decided on the MNS before the suggestion of reconciliation, the leader said.
The other problem for the Congress has been that the additional seats it hopes to win over its 2007 tally of 71 are all expected to be very closely fought. While some Narayan Rane supporters given tickets in the Sena heartland of Parel-Lalbaug appear to be on a sticky wicket,a poor choice of candidates in some other wards has led to much less overall confidence than in the early stages of campaigning. It will be very tight but we should still make it, said a Congress Member of Parliament.
In a few seats where the Congress and NCP both believe their candidate has found little favour,the Samajwadi Party may do better. Thats not of much concern since there is a likelihood of a Samajwadi Party-Congress tie-up in Uttar Pradesh, he added. But its not the ideal situation where the Congress would have liked to touch 100 seats on its own. If the close contests cost the Congress 10 or 12 seats,much hinges upon the NCP significantly improving its current tally of 14.
Meanwhile,senior NCP leaders have already pointed out that their candidates havent received complete support from Congress workers. One Congress MLA has been accused of working against an NCP candidate in the north-west suburbs.
Simultaneously,Congress workers admit privately that they didnt campaign hard for three Congress wards allotted to Nitesh Ranes Swabhimaan Sanghatana. Also,senior Congress leaders have repeatedly downplayed the party rebels in the fray but at least three to four of them could cause seats to be lost. If the Congress-NCP alliance does not make it,we will have to blame the infighting, admitted a legislator.