Buckling to the Shiv Sena pressure the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Wednesday took the decision to drop sitting (MP) Kirit Somaiya from the Mumbai North East constituency and field BJP corporator Manoj Kotak instead.
The decision came as a rude shock to Somaiya, who was so confident that the BJP would stand by him that he had already started his campaign weeks ago, and was going door-to-door seeking re-election.
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Highly placed sources in the BJP said dropping him was inevitable as it was part of the party’s pre-poll pact with Shiv Sena. The other two conditions were the rollback of Asia’s first green oil refinery at Nanar in Konkan region and handing over BJP’s Palghar Lok Sabha seat to Shiv Sena.
The BJP’s “surrender” to Shiv Sena has evoked sharp reactions among his followers who believe he had to pay the price for fighting graft in the Brihunmumbai Municipal Corporation, the country’s richest civic body, which has been under Shiv Sena control for nearly two decades. Somaiya had made thinly veiled allegations that Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray was remote-controlling the BMC.
Though clearly shattered at being dropped, Somaiya put up a brave face and said: “ I am very happy that Manoj Kotak is contesting from Mumbai North East. We will support him and ensure he wins. Our ultimate aim is to ensure a second term for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Every individual is assigned certain task by the organisation which has to be undertaken positively.”
In its official statement, BJP sought to underplay the role of the Sena in the decision, projecting it instead as the result of an internal assessment of Somaiya’s prospects in the constituency.
Senior cabinet minister Vinod Tawde said, “The BJP’s decision to replace Somaiya with Kotak was based on ground realities.” He said the BJP was not under pressure from any political party, and that it “has always valued the work of Somaiya and he would be adequately accommodated with new responsibilities”.
BJP poll managers explained that although the Sena was against Somaiya initially, it had left the decision to the BJP. “However, our ground survey reflected that Sena workers were not willing to cooperate with BJP in Mumbai North East. As a result we had to drop him,” said one party poll manager.
Notwithstanding the explanation given by BJP, fact remains Somaiyya had exposed the deep rooted corruption in BMC and alleged the patronage of Thackeray family members.
Shiv Sena refrained from making any public statements on the development that they were rooting for, but there was quiet satisfaction.
The party was angered by Somaiya’s 2016 allegation that the BMC is in “the grip of a mafia”, run by the ‘Bandra Saheb’ – a reference to Uddhav Thackeray who lives in Bandra. He had also held a Dussehra event to burn the ‘Ravan of BMC Mahapalika Mafia’.
Somaiya had also alleged that the rampant corruption in the dumping ground in Mumbai suburbs was handiwork of family members who are close to Sena president Thackeray family.
A Sena leader said that Somaiya also made attempts to disqualify three Sena corporators by extending support to opposition leaders.
“How do we expect that these corporators will work for Somaiya. Besides, Somaiya has never given any funds to work proposed by us and has not taken us in confidence for any work. So, there is a lot of bitterness among the sainiks against Somaiya,” the leader added.
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Local Shiv Sainiks in Mumbai North East Lok Sabha constituency had openly expressed their opposition to Somaiya.
“We had expressed our opposition to the party president before the Sena-BJP alliance was announced. If the BJP had fielded Somaiya, the Shiv Sainiks were in no mood to campaign for him,” said Rajendra Raut, Sena’s divisional head from Ghatkopar.
Sunil Raut, a Sena legislator from Vikhroli, had threatened to contest the polls as an Independent if Somiaya was given ticket by BJP.
A section within the BJP also indicated that Somaiya’s rise in the organisation as a lone anti-corruption crusader had caused some heartburn. His popularity in public as a common man’s politician also irked many colleagues within the organisation who wanted to see him downsized in the party. Some also reveal that his blunt speak on critical issues had not gone down well with party president Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Somaiya stepped into electoral politics by defeating Congress’ late Gurudas Kamat in 1999 Lok Sabha elections. In 2014 Lok Sabha elections he won the seat defeating NCP’s candidate Sanjay Dina Patil.
Earlier, BJP appointed him national convenor of Anti-Corruption Scam Expose Committee. He travelled to 16 states and 100 districts to highlight the corruption in various subjects. Somaiya relentlessly pursued alleged corruption – coal mines, Maharashtra Sadan, Adarsh scam, Wheat scam, Demat scam, Maharashtra Irrigation scam.
Kotak the three-term corporator who stood by Somaiya when the official decision was taken said, “I will do the work assigned to me by the party.”
Two years ago, BJP considered Kotak for MLC but he had to withdraw from the race to accommodate another NCP candidate Prasad Lad who joined the BJP.
Somaiya and Kotak represent the same Gujarati community. The Mumbai North East comprises six assembly segments – Mulund, Vikhroli, Bhandup West, Ghatkopar West, Ghatkopar East, Mankhurd Shivaji Nagar.
Of the total 48 Lok Sabha seats, Mumbai and its extended suburbs have six Lok Sabha seats. The Shiv Sena and BJP are contesting three seats each. The BJP is contesting Mumbai North, Mumbai North Central and Mumbai North East. Whereas, Shiv Sena is contesting Mumbai South, Mumbai South Central and Mumbai North West.
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