Last week’s political development that saw six Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) corporators jump ship to join the Shiv Sena could set the stage for a bitter political street fight in Maharashtra between the two parties in the days ahead, political observers say. For the Sena, led by Uddhav Thackeray, the MNS corporators joining the party may be a political masterstroke, but political observers say the move could turn the MNS, led by Uddhav’s brother Raj Thackeray, into its number one rival and set the stage for a political battle spilling onto the streets as the MNS becomes desperate for survival.
On Friday, a day after the BJP won the bypoll in Bhandup’s ward 116 and narrowed the gap between the party and the Sena’s tally in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), six MNS corporators joined the Sena, a move that has stumped the BJP and antagonised the MNS. After Friday’s development, the MNS is left with only one MLA in the Maharashtra Legislature Assembly and one corporator in the BMC, raising a question mark on the party’s future and its very survival.
However, a senior MNS leader, requesting anonymity, said, “Our strength is not electoral politics. But nothing stops us from taking the battle against the Shiv Sena to the streets. We have plenty of ammunition to expose the Sena’s corruption in the BMC. Moreover, the MNS is also gearing up to hijack the ‘sons of the soil’ agenda from the Sena.” “By holding one public rally after the stampede (at the Elphinstone Road railway station), we forced the administration to get rid of hawkers. Now, wait and see what all Raj does when he hits the streets,” said another senior MNS officebearer.
But notwithstanding the ‘Uddhav versus Raj’ fight, the latest political development has hit the MNS hard. The possibility, however remote, of the estranged brothers coming together for the cause of ‘Marathi manoos’ is now almost over. “There is no doubt that the Sena played a masterstroke. But the short-term gains could prove detrimental in the long term. Till now, Raj often exercised caution and lent a helping hand to the Sena to keep the BJP away. Hereafter, the MNS will not be obliged to cater to the Sena’s sentiments. It can openly side with the BJP in the future,” said political commentator Abhay Deshpande.
NCP president Sharad Pawar said, “The Sena did exactly what the BJP does to expand its own party. The BJP should know, ‘You reap what you sow’.” But BJP leaders seemed unfazed. “We have nothing to lose or gain. We have supported the Sena-led coalition in the BMC to lend stability without participating in power,” said a BJP leader. BJP chief spokesperson Madhav Bhandari said, “The Sena is determined to finish the MNS. The Sena, which often gives sermons to one and all on defection, has exposed its hypocrisy and lies.”
On Pawar’s remarks, Bhandari said, “Who knows better than Pawar the politics of defection. I would like to remind Pawar the year 1978. That year, Pawar left the Vasantdada Patil-led Indian National Congress. He along with his supporters formed a new party, the Indian National Congress (Socialist). Later, he returned to the original Congress party. In 1999, he again left the Congress and formed the NCP…”