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In Shiv Sena’s decision to support Droupadi Murmu, an open door and a signal from Uddhav Thackeray to BJP

Through his decision on Droupadi Murmu, Uddhav Thackeray would want to subtly convey that the Sena-BJP relationship is still an open-ended affair.

Sources say that there is a larger message in Thackeray's decision to concede to his MPs on Murmu (File)

In the end, it was political compulsion that drove the Shiv Sena’s decision on Monday to support NDA presidential candidate Droupadi Murmu. Though Sena president Uddhav Thackeray claimed he was under no pressure from his MLAs, it’s no secret that the Sena, wounded and depleted in strength after the recent rebellion that led to the fall of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government that it led, had few options on the table.

On Monday, 13 of the party’s 18 remaining MPs had attended a meeting convened by Thackeray at his residence and “requested” him to support Murmu for President and open the door to a possible reconciliation with the BJP and the breakaway Eknath Shinde faction of the party.

Last week, party MP Rahul Shewale wrote to Thackeray, saying the Sena should support Murmu. In a party where the Thackerays are rarely, if ever, questioned, the MP’s letter to the Sena chief was a clear indication that the tiger’s stripes were fast fading and that party members were no longer afraid to stand up and speak their mind. After the recent revolt, Thackeray has anyway been walking a thin line: any attempt by him to disregard the sentiments of his MPs would have exposed the cracks wider.

Sources say that there is a larger message in Thackeray’s decision to concede to his MPs on Murmu: that he is willing – even eager – to maintain cordial relations with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and mend broken fences with the Centre. Through his decision on Murmu, Thackeray would want to subtly convey that the Sena-BJP relationship is still an open-ended affair.

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Defending the Sena’s decision to back Murmu, a senior leader said, “When a tribal woman candidate is projected for the first time (for the post of President), why would anybody object? Any attempt to oppose the decision will not go well amongst the tribals of Maharashtra.”

The leader went on to admit that the party had “limited options”.

“On the one hand we have an educated and experienced tribal leader in Murmu. On the other hand, we have Yashwant Sinha as the Opposition candidate. Even within the Opposition there is no consensus on Sinha. Why should the Sena support him then?”

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Sena insiders point to how party founder Bal Thackeray had set aside ideological and political differences to twice support the UPA’s presidential candidates – Pratibha Patil and Pranab Mukherjee.

Saying Thackeray played smart by supporting Murmu, a Sena leader said, “In politics, you don’t slam doors for ever. Who can predict the future?”

The BJP has welcomed Thackeray’s decision to support Murmu. A state BJP functionary said, “In politics, there are no permanent friends or enemies. Even the BJP central leadership would not want to end relations with the Thackerays.” Party sources said that in the BJP’s core committee meetings, state and central leaders have strictly urged the cadre not to target Thackeray. The BJP also decided not to include Aaditya Thackeray’s name in the list of MLAs whose disqualification it sought.

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A BJP general secretary said, “If the Sena is willing to embrace the Shinde-led rebels and have an alliance with the BJP, the central leadership will assist them. After all, all it takes is a phone call or a meeting between the PM and Thackeray.”

First published on: 12-07-2022 at 10:01:39 pm
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