In MNS, BJP sees a partner which can take Sena space

The MNS agitation over the movie might have been seen as another display of the in-vogue macho neo-nationalism. But that’s not the case.

Written by Girish Kuber | Mumbai | Updated: October 23, 2016 10:42 am
Raj Thackeray, MNS, Devendra Fadnavis, Karan Johar, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil release, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil ban, Shiv Sena, Uddhav Thackeray, Maharashtra politics, Maharashtra news, India news Once upon a time in Mumbai: The Thackerays with Miandad

Within hours of Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray attacking the BJP in Goa and calling it power-hungry, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis “intervened” in Mumbai Saturday to end the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s agitation over Karan Johar’s movie Ae Dil Hai Mushkil — but not before ensuring that the younger Thackeray gets enough political mileage.

The MNS agitation over the movie might have been seen as another display of the in-vogue macho neo-nationalism. But that’s not the case.

Like the late Bal Thackeray, the Shiv Sena founder, Raj is fond of Bollywood and has more personal friends — including the Khan troika — there than in the political arena. So there’s much more to the controversy over Karan Johar’s movie.

The issue has a direct co-relation to the upcoming election season in the state which has pitted the ruling BJP against its alliance partner, the Shiv Sena. Though the BJP and Shiv Sena have been sharing power, the latter has become one of the most bitter critics of the BJP. The Sena’s effort is to claim the opposition space too, thanks to the ineffective NCP and lacklustre Congress. The Sena thinks that by doing this, it can insulate itself from the anti-incumbency that comes with power. But its ‘have-the-cake-and-eat-it-too’ approach has irked and humiliated the BJP.

For long, the BJP has been of the opinion that until it uproots the Sena from the Mumbai corporation, it cannot reign over all of Maharashtra. A few months from now, the richest municipal corporation in the country will go to polls. The BJP sees this as an opportunity to end the Sena’s two-decade old hegemony over the Rs 42,000-crore municipal corporation. Mumbai is crucial to BJP but it’s more than a lifeline for the Sena. And the BJP is determined to cut it.

For, the Mumbai metropolitan region alone contributes as many as 60 MLAs to the 288-member state legislature and 11 MPs to Parliament out of the 48 from Maharashtra. The BJP, however, is equally aware that it can’t win over Mumbai and the neighbouring region on its own and that it needs a partner who can help negate the Shiv Sena.

Enter the MNS. Interesting as this may seem, it’s not for the first time that the ruling party in the state has had a tacit understanding with a Thackeray-led political outfit. In the 1960s and 70s, it was the Congress-led Maharashtra government that looked the other way when Shiv Sena went on a rampage against non-Maharashtrians.

If it was Bal Thackeray who had clandestine support from successive state governments then, it is now Raj Thackeray who has an implicit understanding with the BJP-led state government. Bal Thackeray came in handy for Marathi Congress leaders like the late Vasantdada Patil, Vasantrao Naik etc to neutralise Congress factions led by the likes of late Rajni Patel, Murli Deora etc then. The BJP now views the Raj Thackeray-led MNS as a counterbalance to Shiv Sena.

There are two reasons for the BJP’s politics. First, at stake is the Mumbai municipal corporation, crucial to the BJP’s larger game plan with 2019 in mind. Maharashtra is destined to play an extremely important role should the BJP get a second chance at the Centre.

With 48 MPs, Maharashtra is the second biggest state after UP that has 80 seats and where BJP has already peaked with 72 MPs. Other big states such as Bihar and Tamil Nadu do not offer much hope to the BJP. It makes Maharashtra a key state for the ruling party. And in Maharashtra, it’s the Mumbai metropolitan region that’s critical to the BJP gameplan. Incidentally, the entire region, that has large corporations like Mumbai and Thane, will have polls to elect new city rulers.

And the second reason is Mumbai’s vantage position. Any accomplishment in Mumbai has had a multiplying effect all over the nation. It’s no coincidence that Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Make In India campaign here in Mumbai, followed by the setting up of the first Kaushalya Vikas Kendra — skill development centre — again in Mumbai. It’s also no coincidence that the megalopolis has been witnessing a slew of large infra projects that promise big-ticket investment. The ruling party is leaving no stone unturned to convert Mumbai into a jewel in its crown.

The only threat the BJP faces is from Shiv Sena. On the other hand, fully aware of BJP’s machinations, the Sena has been consistently raising its pitch against the BJP. No day passes without the Sena verbally attacking the BJP. It’s just getting bitter and sharper in the run-up to the approaching elections.

In MNS, the BJP sees one which can successfully take away the political space of the Sena. Besides, in Raj, the BJP leadership see a more reliable and stable partner.

So the controversy over Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is just collateral damage in a renewed game of partner swap. It’s just the beginning.

Girish Kuber is Editor, Loksatta