TWO top leaders from the state stepped in to defuse a potential crisis just as ties between the BJP and ally Shiv Sena appeared to be headed for another flashpoint early this week, it is learnt.
On Tuesday, the two senior BJP leaders got on the phone to Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray hours before he was to address Sena’s annual Dussehra rally at Shivaji Park in Mumbai, to end hostilities in the run-up to the civic body polls, sources confirmed.
While no one was willing to share full details of what transpired, Tuesday’s gesture by the two senior leaders appeared to have had an impact as the Shiv Sena leader, who has been mounting an offensive against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in recent times, chose not to attack him during his speech. Praising the PM for the surgical strikes beyond the Line of Control by the Indian Army, Thackeray trained his guns on Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi over the latter’s “khoon ki dalali” remark.
And by not going by the popular mood among Shiv Sainiks, Thackeray chose not to shut the door on an alliance for the upcoming Mumbai polls.
After daring the BJP to break the alliance in the first half of his hourlong speech, Thackeray struck a conciliatory note towards the end. “The Shiv Sena and Mumbai are synonymous with another another. It is a relation of blood that can never be severed. If you (the BJP) wish to come together, you’re welcome. But we won’t come begging before you,” he said Tuesday. Addressing the Shiv Sainiks, he added later, “Leave the decision on the alliance talks to me.”
The Shiv Sena leader also appeared to be mellower than usual in his attacks against the state BJP leadership, admitted a senior Shiv Sena leader who did not wish to be named.
The BJP’s outreach comes at a time when the aggressive posturing between the two warring allies in the run-up to the Mumbai polls have strained their ties further. On October 5, BJP’s Mumbai MP Kirit Somaiya angered the Sena by announcing that his party was prepared to fight the Mumbai polls alone. In a sharp dig at the Sena, which controls the BMC, Somaiya had said, “Our aim is to end the mafia raj in the municipality. We want to put a stop to the corruption that has been going on in the Mumbai civic body.” While the BJP was quick to distance itself from Somaiya’s comments, saying the party was yet to take a call on the alliance, the MP’s comments evoked a strong response from the ally, with Shiv Sena’s Anil Parab even equating Somaiya to a “barking dog”. Sharp barbs were also exchanged between Mumbai BJP leader Ashish Shelar and Shiv Sena leaders during the past week.
Somaiya rubbed it in further by burning an effigy depicting BMC’s mafia don at a Dussehra function in Mulund Tuesday. This eventually led to a scuffle between BJP and Sena workers later in the evening. Thackeray, however, omitted a mention of the episode during his speech, while “requesting the chief minister to decide who should be talking on the alliance in the BJP”.
However, the fault lines between the allies re-emerged Wednesday. Following Tuesday’s scuffle, Somaiya fired another salvo saying his resolve “to end the mafia raj in BMC” would continue.
Shelar too joined in. “We (the BJP) would intensify our campaign against the mafia raj in the municipality. When we burnt the effigy of corruption, how did they (the Shiv Sena) get offended,” he said. Other BJP leaders, including Maharashtra Housing Minister Prakash Mehta and MLA Ram Kadam, too, took a dig at the ally. Sena leaders also renewed fire.
Both Thackeray and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis would like to stitch a pre-poll pact despite the hostilities, confirmed sources. The BJP had emerged as the biggest party in the 2014 assembly polls, and the Sena, which regards Mumbai as its bastion, is keen to stem the tide. On the other hand, Fadnavis, who will be the face of the BJP’s campaign for polls to 10 municipal corporations, besides several municipal councils and zilla parishads, would be banking on the Sena’s support for stability. Sources said the BJP was also wary of the fallout of the protests by the Marathas demanding reservation. In that context, top BJP leaders calling up Thackeray ahead of his rally is being seen as politically significant.
Meanwhile, Shelar mocked Thackeray’s dare. “If you (the BJP) want to break the alliance, do it today. We’ll then show you our surgical strike,” the Sena chief had said Tuesday. In response, Shelar said, “Those who do not have 56-inch chests should not talk about surgical strikes.”