BMC Election 2017: Shiv Sena and BJP play saffron politics to divide and conquer opposition parties

The BMC goes to polls on Tuesday after a high decibel campaign during which the voices of opposition parties were inundated in the acrimony between the saffron allies turned ‘rivals’: the Shiv Sena and the BJP.

 BMC Election 2017: Shiv Sena and BJP play saffron politics to divide and conquer opposition parties

File image of Shiv Sena supremo Uddhav Thackeray. PTI

The allegations and counter-allegations are flying thick and fast between the two ‘Hindutva’ pariwar partners, who continue to share power in the state as well as the Centre, apparently to create an impression that only the two saffron parties are the frontrunners.

It could be a shrewd calculation of initiating a ‘Congress-NCP Mukt’ era in politics of Maharashtra and Mumbai. What the Shiv Sena has been doing in state politics through its belligerent activities against BJP policies, the BJP has done during the poll campaign for the BMC where the Shiv Sena is the big brother.

Ever since the BJP came to power in the state in 2014 Lok Sabha and Assembly polls, it has kept the Shiv Sena on a leash, giving controlled leeway for calculated dissent. For instance, in 2015, Shiv Sena workers blackened the face of Sudheendra Kulkarni, a former journalist and aide of LK Advani, for organising a function for the release of a book written by Pakistan’s former minister Khurshid Kasuri.

The Shiv Sena men also threatened to disrupt the book release function but Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis was able to smoothen things out and the Shiv Sena relented. In the process, the Shiv Sena continued to maintain its identity of a militant organization, albeit raising emotive issues, while the BJP, as the party ruling the country, maintained its sober, dignified stance. Since 2014, the BJP has emerged as the big brother for the Shiv Sena in state politics, unlike in the past, when the Shiv Sena used to win more seats than the BJP in the Assembly.

Over the past over two years, BJP leaders have been raising voices against irregularities and lack of transparency in the BMC governed by the Sena. Considering the anti-incumbency factor, the Sena is jittery over retaining power, while the BJP is nursing dreams of wresting power in the BMC on its own, or at least emerge as the single-largest party to become Shiv Sena’s big brother.

However, the BJP’s campaign against Sena’s misgovernance in the civic body has been well calculated and at times, confusing. If the BMC was being misgoverned, the BJP government could have superseded it, or at least come up with specific instances of corruption for legal action. Instead, the BJP’s campaign lacked exposure of scams, or followup of irregularities pointed out before the announcement of polls.

Ironically, the Finance Ministry released a document, stating that the BMC’s governance has been transparent, giving scope for chest thumping by boisterous Sena leaders. Likewise, when some local BJP leaders came up with the bizarre idea of banning the printing of the Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna for three days, senior BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu opposed it. The media attention, especially by news channels, remained largely focused on the diatribes of leaders of the saffron partners, relegating the opposition parties to the fringes.

The Congress, as usual, remained divided with infighting between its city chief Sanjay Nirupam (a former Shiv Sainik) and former Union minister Gurudas Kamat coming out in the open over managing the elections. The party is already on the backfoot after losing power in the state in 2014 and some of its leaders under scanner for misusing power.

The NCP, which had shared power with the Congress in the state, is also on the defensive after Chhagan Bhujbal was indicted for corruption and its other leaders came under the scanner. The traditional votebank of the Congress and the NCP has been scattered. Muslims have other options: the Samajwadi Party and the AIMIM, which is poised for a debut. The MNS is in miserable shape. The party had offered its support to the Shiv Sena, but was rebuffed. At best, the MNS may emerge as a prop for the Shiv Sena in case of a fragmented mandate.

Dalits, on the other hand, have continued to remain divided into various factions across the metropolis. Of the 227 constituencies, there are around 50 where the Dalit vote could determine the winner, but in areas where Dalits live, there are far too many Dalit candidates competing against one another. The induction of Ramdas Athawale into the Modi cabinet and the promise to create a national memorial for Dr BR Ambedkar is more of an emotional support for Dalits rather than a political gamechanger.

Athawale’s party was promised 25 seats, but given 17, including six constituencies in which BJP candidates are also in the fray. The tactical tussle between the Shiv Sena and the BJP appears to be to  prevent opposition parties such as the Congress from occupying the opposition space.

In the event of either the Shiv Sena or the BJP getting a clear majority, the other can always be the main opposition party, with the saffron alliance still intact in the state as well as the Centre for Hindutva. It would also ensure that parties such as the Congress are further marginalised.

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Updated Date: Feb 20, 2017 17:55:30 IST