Ending days of speculation, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray on Sunday confirmed his party would contest the Lok Sabha polls.
Immediately afterwards, he added a twist to the tale when he said that if his party candidates were elected MPs, they would support Narendra Modi as prime minister.
While the Shiv Sena, led by Raj's estranged cousin Raj Thackeray, would resent the move, sources say the decision to support Modi holds many significance for Raj and state politics.
The most important fall-out of this decision is the likelihood of pro-Modi voters shifting loyalties to MNS in seats where the Shiv Sena is in the fray. But there is speculation that the MNS may not put up candidates against the BJP in some seats or put up weak candidates. This would ensure sure victory for the BJP.
In 2009, the MNS fought 12 seats and the vote split led to the Shiv Sena and BJP nominees losing nine constituencies. Raj may not want a repeat of this and so may help the BJP get back some of the nine it lost due to the vote split.
Through the announcement, Raj also hopes to prevent the middle and upper middle class voter, influenced by the perceived Modi wave, from voting for the Sena, instead of the MNS.
Raj's announcement has irked Sena ranks. The BJP is eager to replace the Sena as the larger coalition partner. "At this rate, the Sena and the BJP may defeat each other," observed a Sena source.
The fissures within the Sena and the BJP, which came to the fore after the Sena criticised former BJP national president Nitin Gadkari for reaching out to Raj, may affect the saffron alliance's electoral fortunes. To make matter worse Tariq Anwar, union minister and senior leader of the NCP, said in Patna that since the BJP is getting closer to Raj, it means that the BJP, too, is an anti-north Indian party.
"How can you seek the support of jingoistic elements like Shiv Sena and MNS who brazenly attacked north Indian migrants in Mumbai and elsewhere in Maharashtra on a number of times in recent years... It proves that you are not compassionate towards north Indians," Tariq Anwar asked the BJP.
If this propaganda catches on, it will seriously affect the BJP's chances in Bihar. So, the BJP has tied itself up in knots because of its double-faced Maharashtra strategy.
The Sena will also be under pressure if the BJP insists on a possible five- party 'Mahayuti' (grand alliance) to include the MNS, especially in a post-poll scenario after the Lok Sabha or assembly polls, something Uddhav is not very keen on. The BJP, Shiv Sena, RPI (A), Swabhimaani Paksha and Rashtriya Samaj Paksha form the five parties in the grand alliance.
This will be the first elections where Raj and Uddhav will be testing each others' strength in the post-Bal Thackeray era. Raj is projected as the natural political heir of his uncle as against the mild-mannered Uddhav who seems to be at a loss on how to counter the aggressive and fast- moving Raj.
The MNS announced that former MLA Deepak Paigude would contest from Pune, a BJP seat. "(We will) fight the polls ... we will show our strength," announced Raj, amidst cheers by supporters.
On Sunday, Raj announced the candidatures of MLA Bala Nandgaonkar (South Mumbai), Aditya Sarpotdar (South Central Mumbai), director Mahesh Manjrekar (North West Mumbai), Rajiv Patil (Kalyan), Ashok Khandebarad (Shirur), Dr Pradeep Pawar (Nashik) and Paigude (Pune). The second list will be relieased in a couple of days.
However, MNS workers admit that Raj's open declaration of allegiance to Modi, may result in the party losing a chunk of Muslim votes, especially Maharashtrian Muslim and Dalit (Neo-Buddhist) votes.