At 50, Sena ponders strategy

Shiv Sena completes 50 years today, posters put up; preparations underway ahead of the celebrations (Pic: ANI)
The Shiv Sena (SS), on completion of 50 years since its foundation day, faces a challenge to counter its senior partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s move to be in the driver’s seat in the Mumbai civic body. And, thereby, cut its lifeline ahead of the civic poll slated for 2017.

BJP, now playing a big brother’s role, is pursuing a 'Shiv Sena Mukt Mumbai’ (Shiv Sena-free Mumbai) strategy, after achieving a Congress Mukt Maharashtra in the state assembly elections despite going solo.

The SS reluctantly joined the BJP-led government in December 2014 but has been quite vocal in its displeasure at having to play second fiddle. And, attacking both the central and state government’s functioning.

So much so, the SS termed the government here worse than the erstwhile Nizam’s and also that the common man was yet to see the ''ache din'' (better days) promised by Narendra Modi, now the prime minister.

The SS has realised that its traditional ‘Marathi Manoos’ vote bank might not be enough to retain its supremacy in India's richest civic body, the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) or get a majority in the 288-member state assembly. The party, which recently dropped its Mi Mumbaikar plank (formally reaching out to all sections of society), will have to make a strong bid to incorporate non-Marathi speakers and those hailing from outside Maharashtra to consolidate its position. Party insiders believe this is necessary with the BJP’s inroads.

And, the BJP is not leaving any opportunity to corner the SS. Its ‘shouting brigade’ of Kirit Somaiya, Ashish Shelar and Madhav Bhandare are repeatedly announcing one alleged scam after another involving the Sena, especially in the BMC, and even sending a stern warning that those protecting corruption will be sent to jail. The verbal duel might continue till the BMC poll, though some national BJP seniors have strongly advocated a continuation of the alliance between the two, avoiding a war of words.

On the other hand, insiders say the SS faces another challenge, on retaining its pro- Hindutva tag, when a section of the BJP is taking a hard line on this front. This is also essential to pursue Sena president Uddhav Thackeray’s plan to spread across the country and emerge as a national party. Last year, the SS fielded candidates in the Bihar assembly polls and has already said it would go solo in Goa and a couple of other states.

Uddhav as leader

After the demise of Sena founder-supremo Bal Thackeray in November 2012, quite a few thought it was nearing the end. The SS has seen many ups and downs, including senior leaders Chhagan Bhujbal, Narayan Rane and Bal Thackeray's nephew, Raj, leaving the party. However, the cadre remained largely unmoved as the senior Thackeray managed to tide over the situation.

Uddhav, anointed by his father as the ‘executive president’ in 2003, has since been slowly and steadily leaving his mark. He took a series of steps, one being the bringing of lower-rung leaders into decision making and in ticket distribution. Criticised by rivals as too mild and lacking his father’s charisma, Uddhav succeeded in keeping the flock together after Thackeray's death and also increased his grip on the party's functioning.

When the two parties cut their two-decade poll link before the Aassembly poll in 2014, Uddhav took the BJP head-on and extensively toured Maharashtra. Despite being part of the Modi-led government at the Centre, he even compared the PM and his team to Afzal Khan’s army, alleging the BJP wanted to partition the state. The party could win 63 seats, increasing its tally compared to the 2009 elections. Uddhav gives due credit to committed party workers, especially youths. His son and the party’s youth wing chief, Aditya, has been active on achieving an urban-rural mix and mobilising the support of social media-savvy youths.

The SS has those seeking the party’s exit from the government and those making a strong case for continuing to exploit the opposition’s space while being an active ruling partner. Uddhav has indicated he is not for being in power at any cost and that the SS will take a decision at the appropriate time.

Meanwhile, he will have to gear up for the coming civic and local body elections slated for next year. And, the BJP has decided to achieve a ‘Shat Pratishat BJP’ (100 per cent BJP) to the panchayat level.

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