The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has its task cut out ahead of the 2014 assembly polls. The party, which has been hoping that the saffron alliance rides back to power by cashing in on administrative failures of the incumbent Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government, will have to take up the responsibility of minimising the growing bitterness between Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) to consolidate the saffron alliance.
The BJP’s central leadership has already nudged its senior leader Gopinath Munde to begin putting in place a workable formula to consolidate the BJP front in Maharashtra. The party believes that as long as Sena and MNS work for a common goal—to consolidate their position against Congress and NCP—it will work to BJP’s advantage. However, if Sena and MNS fight each other in the Marathi-dominated 90 out of 288 assembly seats, it could upset the applecart for the saffron alliance.
BJP’s calculation has it that a divide between Sena and MNS not only works to Congress’s advantage, it also adversely affects BJP’s electoral fortunes.
A senior BJP functionary at the centre said on the condition of anonymity that after a 15-year rule of the Democratic Front government, BJP has a “golden opportunity to turn the tables against Congress and NCP” in Maharashtra. However, a lot hinges on how the equation between Sena and MNS evolves after Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s death.
Although Sena’s executive president Uddhav Thackeray and MNS chief Raj Thackeray have maintained a studied silence after Thackeray’s death, a few people in both camps are trying to prove how Uddhav and Raj have failed to reconcile their personal and political differences. An Uddhav supporter said that while MNS is projecting how Raj was ill-treated at his uncle’s funeral, the other camp maintains that there was no humiliation of any sort.
Political managers in the BJP clarified that the party was not necessarily pinning its hopes on a merger between the Sena and MNS. “The two outfits could retain their independent identities and work towards a common purpose – to consolidate the saffron alliance in Maharashtra,” said a senior leader of the party. “On the other hand, if the acrimony between Uddhav and Raj flares up, it will surely mar our chances of staging a comeback. Far from a return, the Congress will manage to steal the show in Maharashtra.”