For Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, who had dreamt of building a coalition of regional parties in Maharashtra or emerging as a strong national player, the results of the civic polls in the state would have come as a huge reality check. After pitching his party as a political alternative to the BJP, Uddhav may now be forced to play second fiddle to it in the state. A text message that went viral on Thursday summed up the Sena’s situation: “We only have branches in Mumbai and Thane.”
The Sena may well have to respect public sentiment for now as the BJP has secured a significantly bigger mandate. Across the 10 major municipal corporations that went to polls, the BJP won more than 500 seats, up from 205 in 2012. The Sena’s tally saw a smaller increase to 267 from 227.
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For a party that espouses the cause of sons of the soil, the Sena has not found much resonance with voters outside Mumbai and Thane. It has failed to make inroads in Vidarbha, Pune or Nashik. The party has even failed to benefit from the implosion of familial rival MNS, which has in the past eaten into its vote share. Most of the voters who deserted Raj Thackeray seemed to have moved to the BJP.
“The Sena failed to realise that raising emotive issues can take you forward only up to a certain point. The Marathi Manoos card seems to have outlived its utility. People want development. The Sena failed to provide that and suffered,” said Dr Surendra Jondhale, political observer and professor of political science at Mumbai University.
“The elections show that the rest of Maharashtra seems to have closed its doors to the Sena. Its hopes of being a strong regional party have been dashed for now,” senior political analyst Kumar Ketkar said.
While Uddhav left no stone unturned in terms of effort — having addressed over 30 rallies in a fortnight — questions have been raised about his political acumen. There had been rumblings in the party over the decision to snap the alliance with the BJP, and many agree that Uddhav has a lot of work to do before he joins the ranks of satraps who dominate in their states. “We did come up short against the BJP and Narendra Modi. We don’t know if the strategy to target the PM helped or harmed us,” a senior Shiv Sena leader said.
Political observers said that the Sena, which had taken on the BJP and PM Narendra Modi head on — criticising him in every speech — will have to temper its belligerence. “After the results, I do not see the Sena pulling the plug on this government. Survival mode will kick in. The bitterness and criticism will be dropped,” Ketkar said.
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“The single-line interpretation of these results is that the public wants the BJP and Shiv Sena to work together. The road ahead for the Sena is to play second fiddle to the BJP. Things may change in the future if the Sena recuperates,” Prakash Akolkar, political editor of Sakal and a chronicler of Shiv Sena’s history, said.
Uddhav struck a defiant posture after the numbers came in, unwilling to concede defeat in Mumbai at least. “How can you call it their (BJP’s) victory when you compare the resources and money they poured into this campaign with ours?” he said.
Party watchers said his coterie of advisers may not allow him to snap ties with the BJP. “Uddhav wanted to capture the Maharashtra citadel in these elections. What he managed to do is capture only two bastions. He needs to realise that large parts of Maharashtra are not with him,” Ketkar added.
BJP makes inroads in Vidarbha
Making strides in Vidarbha, the BJP retained its hold on Akola Municipal Corporation and wrested Amravati from the Congress. In doing so, it won absolute majority in both the corporations.
In Amravati, the BJP tally went up from 7 to 45. The Congress dropped from 25 to 15 and Shiv Sena from 11 to 7. But it was the NCP that was completely decimated. It drew a blank this time compared to 18 last time. In Akola, the BJP took a quantum leap of 30 seats over its previous tally of 18. The Congress dropped to 13 from its previous tally of 18.