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Will Uddhav Thackeray be Maharashtra’s next CM?

LiveMint logoLiveMint 18-05-2014 Makarand Gadgil

In an informal chat with reporters on Thursday, Maharshtra state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Devendra Fadanvis insistied that the BJP-Shiv Sena combine would better its performance of 1996 Lok Sabha elections and win more than 35 seats in the state. The saffron duo had won 33 seats out 48 in 1996.

He predicted the Shiv Sena would win 17 to 19 seats and BJP between 20 and 22.

By Friday afternoon, it was evident his was on target, especially about Sena. The Sena indeed won 18 seats while BJP won even more than what he had predicted at 24.

All opinion and exit polls had given the BJP-Sena alliance 32-38 seats and the maximum number of seats any exit poll given to Sena was 14. In cricketing parlance, Sena’s strike rate has been close to 86% as the party had contested 21 seats.

Will this stellar performance in Lok Sabha elections help Sena win assembly elections and party president Uddhav Thackeray to fulfil his ambition of occupying the corner office on sixth floor of Mantralaya, the state secretariat which offers magnificent view of the Arabian Sea?

As per the arrangement between BJP and Shiv Sena put in place in 1990, BJP contests more seats during the Lok Sabha polls and the order gets reversed for the assembly polls where Shiv Sena fields more candidates. Between the two parties, whichever wins the higher number of seats gets a shot at chief ministership.

Considering the fact that Sena contests 54 more seats than BJP in the 288-seat Maharashtra assembly elections, it is unlikely that a BJP leader will become chief minister even though both Gopinath Munde and Nitin Gadkari have been nursing that ambition.

The assembly polls are just four to five months away and if indeed the Sena-BJP alliance comes back to power, Uddhav Thackeray may head the government.

The Thackeray tradition has been staying away from contesting the elections and holding any public office but Uddhav Thackeray is no Bal Thackeray who can run the government through remote control. In all probability he would like to keep the reins of the government firmly in his hand.

The word remote control is a contribution of maverick former Shiv Sena chief, the late Bal Thackeray, to the political lexicon— a device he used when the first Sena-BJP government ruled the state in 1995-99.

Uddhav Thackeray is the most underrated leader in the state and the media has never given him his due. His estranged cousin and chief of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), Raj Thackery, has always remained media’s darling, hitting the front page headlines and occupying the prime time on national television channels.

The MNS candidates have not been able to garner even 100,000 votes in any of the 10 seats that the party contested. More importantly, the Shiv Sena today is almost five times bigger than Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which has won only four seats in the state. During the 2009 elections when United Progressive Alliance was voted back in power, the Sena had three more members of Parliament (MPs) than NCP, winning 11 Lok Sabha seats against NCP’s eight.

The results of the latest round of Lok Sabha elections in Maharashtra have made one thing clear— the Sena has not disintegrated under Uddhav Thackeray’s leadership after Bal Thackery’s death. Indeed he lacks the charisma of his father but tries to overcome it by hard work and meticulous planning.

He addressed 60 rallies in the state and appointed assembly segment-wise observers for all 21 Lok Sabha seats where the party contested. None of these observers was sent from Mumbai; all were local residents. These observers exchanged notes on campaigning with the district unit heads of the party daily and used to fine tune campaigning strategy, if required.

The party has its strategy in place for the assembly elections. Shiv Sena has identified 80 assembly seats which it is holding or won in the past and appointed observers for all these 80 segments who will list all social, political and economic issues affecting the constituencies. The will regularly submit reports to Uddhav Thackeray and his core team. These reports will form the bedrock for a tailor-made campaigning at each of these 80 assembly constituencies.

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