Three days after the Shiv Sena decided to contest the BMC polls on its own steam, Sena leaders said several corporators from other parties were approaching them in the hope of getting a ticket to contest. On Sunday, the Sena welcomed senior Congress corporator Devendra Amberkar, who it said was the first of more such high-profile entrants into the party fold.
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A former leader of Opposition in the BMC, Amberkar was inducted into the Shiv Sena in front of a small gathering, including party chief Uddhav Thackeray, at the latter’s residence Matoshree in Bandra.
Amberkar, a close aide of former MP and senior Congress leader Gurudas Kamat, had been the opposition leader for two years until March 2016. In a sudden move last year, Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam replaced Amberkar, a Maharashtrian, with the Ghatkopar corporator Pravin Chheda, a Gujarati. According to seniors in the Congress, this was only one of the many instances of the Kamat camp and Nirupam facing off, as early as 10 to 11 months ago.
Amberkar, who has been representing the Amboli Hill area of the western suburbs since 2012, slammed Nirupam immediately after he joined the Sena. “I was being offered a ticket from Goregaon and Dindoshi, which was not acceptable to me. I was seeking a ticket from the Four Bungalows area of Versova, which I represented in 2007. As the Congress was not ready to give me that seat, I decided to join the Sena. There was a tacit understanding between the Congress and the BJP to refuse me a ticket from my turf,” said Amberkar, a 52-year-old corporator who had also served as ward committee chairman of K West Ward for two years. According to Amberkar’s supporters, Nirupam wanted to ensure that he and other Kamat supporters were unable to get re-elected.
According to Kamat’s supporters, Amberkar was in fact the face of the Kamat camp in the BMC. With his removal as opposition leader, Nirupam allegedly began a wipeout of Kamat supporters from the BMC. “In his ward, there is no strong Sena candidate to face Amberkar. It was a sure seat for the Congress, but he was being denied a ticket from that ward,” said one of the supporters of Amberkar.
According to Shiv Sena leaders, Amberkar is only the first. Corporators from other parties, including the Congress, the NCP and the MNS, are reportedly in touch with the Sena. “As we have decided to contest solo, many corporators are in touch with us and want to join the Sena. While we are considering certain names, a final decision has not yet been taken,” said Anil Parab, a Sena legislator and senior leader.
Another Sena leader said the party had chalked out a strategy to poach a number of corporators to increase the party’s tally in the polls next month. “Our total number of corporators in the BMC will surely increase, but we are not relying on only our Sainik candidates. Bringing in a certain number of sitting corporators is also part of the strategy. Many will join in the next few days,” claimed the leader.
“However, we cannot accommodate all interested corporators because our shakha leaders who have a good grassroots network are important too, and the entry of outside corporators may not go down well with the party cadre. So, we are considering interested corporators from areas where we don’t have a strong candidate. It will not only ensure that there are no rebels within the Sena but will also increase our tally,” added the leader.
Another leader said the Sena needed strong candidates, particularly in areas dominated by Gujarati, North Indian and Muslim population. “These areas we have ignored so far and were given to our alliance partners. Now, our fight is against the BJP. And we will not leave any stone unturned to make inroads in these areas,” said the leader.
In the 227-member general body of BMC, the Sena currently has 75 corporators. The BJP has 32, the Congress has 52, MNS 28, NCP 13 and SP 9 with others.
In the last few months, more than half a dozen corporators from other parties have joined the Sena. They include MNS’s Suresh Awale, Ishwar Tayade and Geeta Chavan, NCP’s Riddhi Khursange and Sandhya Doshi as well as the Congress’s Bhomsingh Rathod.
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