Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s visit to Mumbai has put the BJP on battle mode with an eye on ‘Mission Mumbai 150 plus’. The political message which came across at the end of his two-day tour was – fight to finish Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena in Mumbai.
Why is the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) poll so significant for the BJP? Why is Amit Shah driving the BMC polls?
A closer look at these two aspects shows that the BJP’s bitterness against Uddhav Thackeray is rooted in political turmoil it landed itself post 2019 assembly polls.
The BJP and Shiv Sena coalition government completed its full five years term between 2014 to 2019. While the saffron allies retained their pre-poll pact for both Lok Sabha and state assembly polls in 2019 when it came to government formation, Shiv Sena put a condition of 50:50 power share. Thackeray alleged the BJP had promised them equal power share, including chief minister post by rotation for 2.5 years. The Sena had then cited the promise was made by Shah to Thackeray during a one-to-one closed-door meeting held at ‘Matoshree’ before Lok Sabha elections, a charge the BJP staunchly denied as baseless.
Irked by Thackeray’s hard bargain, the central leadership of the BJP refused to compromise on the CM post, resulting in break-up between the BJP and Shiv Sena. With BJPs isolation, the process of alternative government with three parties in coalition — Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress under Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) was complete.
Badly wounded by what it terms “betrayal”, the BJP decided it would not take this insult and humiliation lying down. After 2.5 years of the MVA rule, the BJP managed to come back to power following a split within Shiv Sena — which many claim was engineered by the BJP. The banner of revolt was lead by now Chief Minister Eknath Shinde (then urban development minister). Of the total 55 Shiv Sena MLAs, 40 joined the Shinde faction. Similarly, of the total 18 MPs, 12 shifted to the Shinde faction. Thus, leaving Thackeray with just 15 MLAs and 6 MPs.
The BJP has thus given the biggest ever body blow to Thackeray. But it still believes the political revenge remains unaccomplished as long as Thackeray retains the BMC. The Thackeray Sena’s identity with the BMC enables them to control country’s economic capital Mumbai and It empowers Thackeray politically.
Therefore, Shah during his address to party leaders, corporators and elected members on Monday said, “Get back to field work with renewed zeal for bigger battle for the BMC.” Asking the party to adopt aggressive strategy to wrest the BMV from a three-decade rule is nothing unusual. But what was surprising was Shah’s direct attack against Uddhav Thackeray. He minced no words when he said, “If Shiv Sena is reduced to smaller party, Uddhav Thackeray is responsible for this…” He was blunt in stating “Uddhav Thackeray has betrayed the BJP. In politics one can tolerate anything but not betrayal”.
With Shah’s visit, the BJP has clearly drawn the roadmap. It has identified its enemy and unveiled the poll strategy for the BMC.
The party has a daunting task of winning 150 seats out of 227 in the BMC polls. Till now no political party has ever won 150 seats. In 2017, Shiv Sena got 84 seats and the BJP 82 while the Congress got 22 and the NCP 9.
The internal BJP survey shows the party can cross 100 seats. As apart from 82 seats where it has sitting corporators, there are 30 to 35 seats where party lost by narrow margin 500 to 2,000 votes. The poll strategists believe if they make a little effort they can swing these 30 to 35 seats to their fold. Secondly, with Shinde Sena in alliance, the BJP is politically empowered. Thus, additional wresting of 40 to 45 seats may seem difficult but not impossible. Several sitting corporators who were once loyal to Thackeray are likely to join BJP-Shinde Sena, insiders revealed.
To ensure everything goes as per their script, BJP chose Ashish Shelar to lead it in Mumbai. The ‘Bandra boy’, Shelar had served as Mumbai BJP president twice in past. It was under his leadership that party got a quantum leap from 33 seats (2012) to 82 seats (2017). He is the BJP’s tried and tested leader known to take the Thackerays head-on. Apart from him, Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, along with Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, will play important role in drawing strategies and monitoring its execution.
Although Shah’s Mumbai visit was marked by his participation in Ganesh festival as he visited Lalbaugcha Raja, Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal (Bandra West), he sharply conveyed that the larger political goal cannot be compromised. His mantra to karyakarta — don’t rest till you show Thackeray his place and win the BMC polls — continues to ring louder than ever in Mumbai.