BMC Election 2017: BJP, Shiv Sena hold their cards close to the chest as number games begin in Mumbai civic body

The results of the urban civic body elections in Maharashtra including the all important cash-rich Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) proves that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) continues to be the most buoyant political force, but the Shiv Sena too is a force to reckon with, at least in Mumbai. The election result has put the friends-turned-rivals in a rather tricky relationship situation in the state and at the centre.

The other significant message emanating from these results is that the Congress which has been completely reduced to margins and the downward slide that hit the grand old party in 2013 has continued in 2017 as well be it Parliamentary, Assembly, Zila Panchayat or any municipal elections.

Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. PTI

Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. PTI

And that’s something for the party's leadership including Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and the core team of Congress strategists to think about. Also, important for the party would be to rethink how it appoints regional heads. More so, since Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam (a former Shiv Sainik) who now has resigned, was put at the helm despite resistance from other factions just because he was close to the Congress vice-president.

A few days ago the BJP pushed Congress out from the second position in Zila Panchayat elections in Odisha and before that in Tripura by-elections. The Congress had performed poorly in all other urban civic bodies and rural Panchayat elections held last year as well, even during the peak of public hardship that was caused by demonetisation.

The BJP swept the Pune polls, retained Nagpur municipal corporations and has made a handsome performance in other municipal corporations. It has all the reasons to be jubilant, but the fact that despite nearly trebling its seats, from 31 seats in 2012 to 82 in 2017, the fact that the BJP is not the single largest party has been a bit of a dampener for the party.

Though it’s a phenomenal performance but still there is a slight uneasiness because of the fact that Shiv Sena has added two more seats as compared to the BJP. The Sena won 84 seats increasing its tally by nine seats from what it had in the outgoing Corporation. In the 227-member BMC no party has a clear majority. A fractured mandate like this is loaded with possibilities of new political alignment in the state, and by consequence at the Centre since the Sena is part of BJP-lead government both in the state and at the Centre.

Given the nature of the present relationship between Shiv Sena and the BJP, there is a strong possibility the two parties may not join hands to run the BMC. There is a great deal of reluctance on either side to form yet another alliance when they actually are so bitterly opposed to each other.

Since Sena is the single largest party in the BMC, it would first get the opportunity to find majority numbers and run the mega corporation. The onus is thus on Sena or Uddahav Thackeray to call up Devendra Fadnavis and other senior BJP leaders to seek support.

Thackeray had been targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi on almost all issues under the sun. He has been also seeing virtues in Congress or Nehru-Gandhi in particular. Will Thackeray change his course and mellow down or will he become even more aggressive against Modi and the BJP?

Thackeray may seek support from his estranged cousin Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party although both these parties have been totally marginalised. The NCP won nine seats whereas the MNS won a mere seven. If these two parties agree to support the Shiv Sena that would take Shiv Sena's numbers to 100, still 14 away from the required 114. Now in an unlikely possibility if the others which include Samajwadi Party, Asaduddin Owaisi's All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen and Independents that make up to 14 back Shiv Sena, the regional outfit would barely make the majority mark without seeking help from Congress and the BJP.

The BJP will get a chance to form a government only if the Shiv Sena can't muster those numbers.

And if that happens, it would then be BJP’s turn to seek support from the Shiv Sena or chart out another route seeking support from MNS and NCP. But even with help from MNS, NCP and others, the BJP numbers would reach only 112. Either the Congress or Shiv Sena has to support the BJP if it wishes to run the corporation. Support from the Congress to the BJP is of course in a realm of impossibility while time will only tell if some thaw develops between the Shiv Sena and BJP when it comes to numbers. A BJP leader cryptically told Firstpost that "at the moment we are looking at all possibilities. Nothing is ruled in, nothing is ruled out. Let us see how things follow."

If the alliance between Shiv Sena and the BJP in BMC does not happen again then the question is: will that impact the Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP-Sena government in Maharashtra? And if that be the case then will Sena pull out from Modi government at the Centre?

Well, nobody has an answer to that. Shiv Sena is not just an original ally of the BJP (since 1989) but the two have been ideologically in sync as well.

Sena’s departure, if at all, from the NDA government may create some turbulence in Maharastra but the Fadnavis government in all likelihood will survive. That will be with thanks from the NCP whose boss Sharad Pawar was recently honoured with the second highest civilian award — Padma Vibhushan — by the Modi government. Though the Sena has its representative — Anant Geete as heavy industries and public enterprises minister — in the Modi cabinet, the party does not have any impact at the centre.

But the party's numbers, in Parliament and in the Maharastra Assembly will have an important role to play when president and vice-president elections take place in the next four months time. In the last two presidential elections, Sena had ditched the BJP to support Congress candidates Pratibha Patil and Pranab Mukherjee.

The complexity of the Sena-BJP relationship gets magnified because there would be some other civic bodies where Sena and BJP might need support from each other as well.

In a recent interview when Amit Shah was repeatedly asked about Thackeray's attack on Modi and the uneasy relationship between the BJP had and Shiv Sena, the BJP president cryptically suggested to wait for the results of the Maharashtra civic bodies polls. He maintained that the Shiv Sena and the BJP were going to the polls as rivals, it was only natural for Uddhav hackeray to take on the BJP as any rival would do, and in turn, the local BJP leaders responded in the same fashion.

No other civic poll results have been debated and discussed nationally, as the Maharashtra civic bodies results were, particularly the results of the BMC. These results have a long-term implication for the state and for the centre.

It’s also the time to see how an astute politician like Sharad Pawar will play his cards.

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Published Date: Feb 23, 2017 10:33 pm | Updated Date: Feb 24, 2017 09:52 am