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BMC polls next battle line: Can Uddhav Sena retain their stronghold?

India Today logo India Today 05-07-2022 Neeta Kolhatkar
BMC polls next battle line: Can Uddhav Sena retain their stronghold? BMC polls next battle line: Can Uddhav Sena retain their stronghold?

William Shakespeare, in his play The Tempest, said, "Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows", as we have seen the current Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, who claimed he was suffocated in the Maha Vikas Aghadi government of a three-party alliance. His defence has been the alliance with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) was against the Hindutva ideology. He also complained about being kept away from the top post.

After the June political crisis in Maharashtra when Shinde rebelled and took along many legislators with him to bring down the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government and won the floor test on June 30, it seemed like it was all over for ex-CM Uddhav Thackeray and his son Aaditya Thackeray. Many pundits predicted the end of Uddhav's political career too. Especially since the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections are a few months away. Well, this we have been hearing since February that the elections are around the corner, not realising the political storm brewing.

IMPACT OF POLITICAL TURMOIL ON BMC POLLS

What will be the impact on Uddhav Thackeray, the Shiv Sena party and the defected 42 legislators in the future elections? Of these, only two are from Mumbai -- Mangesh Kudalkar (Kurla) and Sada Sarvankar (Mahim). Sarvankar, in fact, had backed Uddhav and the Sena when the rebellion had broken out. Many Sainiks and political observers still believe Sarvankar defecting isn't that simple. There is a lot more than meets the eye.

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Now let's take a closer look at the current scenario. Uddhav has gone on a long leave of absence from the government and public politics, seemingly. His son and former cabinet minister, Aaditya, is diligently attending the monsoon session of the Maharashtra Assembly. In these few days, we have witnessed a new CM and his deputy, Devendra Fadnavis of the Bharatiya Janata Party. According to some pundits, he calls the shots for the new government and the CM.

ALSO READ| Uddhav Thackeray to face floor test tomorrow, Governor says session to be videographed

PARTY VAPSI FOR DEFECTORS?

Bharat Gogavale, the new whip of the Shinde-led faction of the Shiv Sena, issued notices to disqualify all Sena legislators who had defied the whip during the trust vote. But guess what, the whip omitted Aaditya's name from this list; he said it was out of respect for Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray.

It does seem like politics makes strange bedfellows. Except for one legislator from Thane and the two from Mumbai, most Uddhav Sena defectors are from the rest of Maharashtra. The BMC elections, too, are not yet announced. A lot can happen and probable theories are already doing the rounds. However, one thing is clear, even before this government has been formed, the end has been predicted. There seems to be a resignation of sorts by Shiv Sainiks who otherwise would have been on the roads, holding the city to ransom. None of this has really happened and the events since the defection leave a lot to be said.

It could be that there is likely to be a 'party vapsi' for the defectors, because they will face the voters in the constituencies. In fact, out of the three parties of MVA, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party have contested independently prior to the last BMC elections due to a fall-out over seat-sharing. And questions never arose about supporting the Sena either from outside or forming an alliance with them for the municipal elections. This time too, there will be no exception. What remains is how the Sena will wield its way.

ALSO READ| Why Sena turmoil is a mere symptom of a problem that runs much deeper | OPINION

UDDHAV RECEIVED SUPPORT

The defections are not likely to have an adverse impact on the Sena party or its councillors. It is all about Mumbai city. Since the time the rebellion broke out and Uddhav's post was threatened, he has somehow received immense support from across society. Some who are neo-converts because of the way he handled the Covid-19 pandemic since 2020.

The way he supported the BMC commissioner and the way in which new medical centres were opened. The MVA government supported the public hospitals and pushed for vaccines, making it feasible for all. He had won half the battle. Most elites could not believe they would at some point support the Shiv Sena and Uddhav, son of Bal Thackeray, the founder of Sena which has frequently held this city to ransom. All the neo-converts seemed to be giving him a chance. In the BMC elections, they still would give his party another chance. His direct communication with citizens helped him build a new urban base which the Sena did not have from the beginning.

ALSO READ| Will fulfill Balasaheb's promise to rename Aurangabad as Sambhaji Nagar: Uddhav Thackeray

AAREY METRO CARSHED PROJECT

In the midst of this crisis, both Uddhav and Aaditya have yet again sent out a message to the citizens; they seemed to care and scored high on optical positioning. They asked the new CM and DCM to 'spare Aarey' and not take back the land for the Mumbai metro carshed.

Interestingly, the former Urban Development minister, Shinde, was part of the decision-making in cancelling land for the metro carshed in Aarey. However, when he was sworn in as the new CM, he immediately announced the carshed would be constructed in Aarey.

The immediate recall for citizens will be, Thackerays cared and are still against giving up Aarey land. These optics matter, especially in civic elections. Citizens will forget the harrowing times they have been facing with the roads dug for civic, metro work and so on. They will not raise red flags about the dismal condition of roads or the lurking infrastructure problems in Mumbai city. But the fact is, the city has suffered since 2020, with the outbreak of the pandemic and his handling is a plus for Uddhav and his party for the BMC elections.

Now, there still is time, and politically, one cannot predict which new alliances will be formed. One thing is for sure, this new alliance and government is still not the end. The real party has still not begun.

Neeta Kolhatkar is a Mumbai-based award-winning senior journalist. She tweets at @neetakolhatkar

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