As Mumbai moves closer to the BMC polls, the sprawling Bandra Reclamation Ground, overlooking the Arabian Sea, stands apart from the hustle and bustle of the acrimony between the big two — the Shiv Sena and the BJP. The dusty uneven ground, now a hotspot for exhibitions and other events, is the very place where the BJP was born on April 6, 1980.
Thirty-seven years later, as the party strikes out on its own to wrest the tag of ‘big brother’ from its saffron ally, the Shiv Sena has gone all out to defend its turf, questioning the relationship between the BJP and Mumbai. The Sena is framing its campaign to dismiss the BJP as an “outsider”, which is trying to “break Mumbai” from Maharashtra.
Stung, the BJP has struck back, fiercely locking horns with the Sena and thus ensuring that the BMC elections are fought over the narrative: “Whose Mumbai?”In his speeches, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has maintained, “Mumbai is BJP’s janmabhoomi (land of birth) and my karmabhoomi (land of duty).”
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Both the Sena and the BJP were born in the city they ruled jointly and are now fighting bitterly over. The Shiv Sena’s first rally, after its formation on June 19, 1966, was at Shivaji Park, Dadar, of then Bombay.
A senior political commentator and former Sena MP Bharat Kumar Raut said, “When the Sena was formed, Prabodhankar Thackeray (Uddhav’s grandfather) had at a public rally declared that he was gifting his son Bal (Thackeray) to Mumbai. The Sena’s connect with Mumbai has thus remained special.”
However, Raut, an eyewitness to the evolution of Sena and BJP politics, added: “While the Sena may have overshadowed the BJP within Mumbai with its political dominance in the BMC, there can be no justification to its questioning the BJP’s relationship with Mumbai.”
Raut, who was present at the first BJP conclave at Bandra Reclamation three decades ago, recalls, “Atal Bihari Vajpayee made a sterling speech with his prediction — ‘Andhera Chhatega, Suraj Niklega, Kamal Khilega (The darkness will pave way for a new dawn and the lotus will bloom).’ Moreover, the RSS had its shakhas at Shivaji Park, Girgaum and Worli even before the birth of the Shiv Sena. The then Jana Sangha, which was later merged into the BJP, too had been active in Mumbai.”
At the first BJP poll rally in Mumbai last week, Fadnavis had recalled Vajpayee’s poetic slogan to boost the morale of his partyworkers at the NSC grounds at Goregaon. The party has also invoked Chhatrapati Shivaji, the symbol of Marathi pride, often. While the Sena has claimed this is an attempt to hijack their icon, a senior leader in the BJP claimed: “Right at the foundation of the party, we had said we draw inspiration from the life and struggle of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.” Fadnavis has gone a step ahead to tick off the Sena: “Chhatrapati Shivaji never tolerated extortion or corruption.”
A poll strategist in the BJP said, “Our party never severed connect with our birth place. When we completed 25 years, the late Pramod Mahajan held a conclave at the same Bandra Reclamation grounds.”
However, a party insider admitted, “The Sena’s hold in the BMC, coupled with its politics of aggression centred around the Marathi manoos agenda, has given it a different connect with Mumbai.”
As the elections come closer, a desperate Sena is reverting to its tried-and-trusted agenda of Mumbai asmita (Mumbai’s Pride), centred around the sons of the soil. Afraid that the BJP is making inroads into its stronghold —Maharashtrian-dominated seats — the Sena is reworking its strategy. Whether it is giving more jobs to the sons of the soil in railways or representation in private sector, the old issues are being raked.
The BJP, so far, has stuck to its development agenda of “transformation of Mumbai through inclusive and holistic development”. As the former allies turn bitter competitors, along with the BMC, more seems to be at stake: the Mumbai legacy.