Mumbai civic election 2017: Shiv Sena, BJP separation is classic politics of ifs and buts

The declaration by Uddhav Thackeray that there will be no more pre-poll alliances with any party, including the BJP, is by far his biggest decision. But saying that its alliance with BJP over decades led to his party 'rotting', however, is odd, for that was the BJP’s status till 2014 — a status that suddenly ballooned thanks to Narendra Modi.

However, the animus between the parties has been building up since before the 2014 Assembly election. The Sena, despite later stepping into the Devendra Fadnavis-led Maharashtra government, continued to behave like an Opposition party making a mockery of its own position: Was it part of the government or in the Opposition? It confused its cadres, perhaps leading to an identity crisis.

First, the Sena got into the Modi Cabinet, but fought his party in the Assembly election and then became a post-poll partner in Maharashtra. Now, it has not spoken of walking out of the state government, but will fight all civic elections on its own without a pre-poll alliance. This assertion is nuanced: One, there will be no pre-poll alliances with any party and two, the Sena will not go around with a begging bowl.

Representational image. Wikimedia Commons

Representational image. Wikimedia Commons

By implication, there is a door left ajar for later manoeuvring should the need arise. At this point in time, the two parties will fight each other for the control of all the 10 major civic corporations in the state — Mumbai, Thane, Solapur, Pune, Nashik etc, as well as the zilla parishads. The control of these bodies could strengthen the winner’s party. Mumbai is critical because it is a golden egg-laying goose, with access to oodles of cash.

One should note that the bouts on seat-sharing have been central to Mumbai and Thane, but none of the other cities or zilla parishads that also form the brick and mortar of politics, even though they are supposed to be apolitical in the sense that they are 'local self-governments'. Politics is actually a superimposition on what is essentially a non-political theatre. This is something we Indians have not understood.

The Sena victories in the 2014 Assembly polls, of 63 seats in five cornered contests in most places, are the reason Uddhav showed his spine on 26 January when he articulated the new strategy. He had won those seats in the absence of his father Bal Thackeray and in the face of the Modi wave, which is no mean feat. He nurses the grudge that despite his own contrived wavering in 2014, it was the BJP that had called off the alliance then.

Had the lure of control of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai not been the issue, the bitterness between the two parties would have been less, and an antagonistic pair of parties would have allowed 'local arrangements between local leaders' and saved face. To the Sena, holding on to Mumbai means retaining its base; to the BJP, unseating Sena would be to push the local party into a state of extreme weakness.

In this ensuing battle, the BJP has nothing to lose and everything to gain. It gets an opportunity, and a very significant one at that, to test how far the inconvenience of demonetisationhas led to any erosion of its base. The BJP had asked for 114, or half of the 227 seats up for grabs in Mumbai’s civic body using the outcome of the Assembly polls. It had led in 115 wards then, and wanted to build on this support. But the snag was many of these civic wards had key Shiv Sainiks as sitting corporators.

Even if both the parties has won half their contested seats each, control of the body would have been jointly theirs because the other parties — the Congress and NCP — appear to stand little chance.

Both are aiming for absolute control or a situation that casts the other party as a junior alliance partner. An alliance rules out the first possibility. Neither hungers for the latter. Hence the BJP, in a cold calculation, has been preparing for a split even in the civic politics with biggies like Kirit Somaiya calling the Sena a mafia and Fadnavis often needling it for corruption at the cost of civic facilities for the city. This 'at the cost of' argument is the only citizen-centric element in their wars.

An interesting offshoot of this political development is that the Congress and NCP — who came together for the first time in 1999, will now find less attention. The focus will remain on the Shiv Sena and the BJP and others including the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) on the fringe. The remote possibility is that the Congress-NCP could come to a miraculous arrangement.

It would be foolish of them not to.


Updated Date: Jan 27, 2017 12:34 PM

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