Despite former BJP president Nitin Gadkari's efforts to convince MNS chief Raj Thackeray against contesting the Lok Sabha elections, the eight-year-old party may after all take the plunge in the polls.
A few days back, Gadkari met Thackeray over lunch and requested him not to contest the elections in order to prevent a split in the anti-incumbency votes. However, Thackeray may announce his decision to fight the elections on Sunday, the foundation day of the MNS. MNS sources admitted that clandestine "seat adjustments" were likely.
Gadkari's efforts earned him the ire of alliance partner Shiv Sena from which Thackeray had split in 2006 to form his own party.
In 2009, the MNS contested 12 seats and the vote-split led to the defeat of Shiv Sena-BJP nominees in nine seats, including five in Mumbai. The fact that the MNS has not opened its cards so far has led to speculations about whether Raj, who has expressed his admiration for Gujarat chief minister and BJP's prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi, would indeed shun a contest.
"We have a ready list of candidates for around 40 seats... we may contest the elections 100% but the final decision will be taken by the party high-command," said a senior MNS leader.
He added that while Sewri legislator Bala Nandgaonkar is likely to be fielded in South Mumbai, the party's Muslim face Haji Arafat Shaikh, one of its North Indian leaders Vageesh Saraswat and Shilpa Sarpotdar are said to be in the zone of consideration for the Mumbai North-Central constituency. Other probable candidates include: Shalini Thackeray (Mumbai North-West), Shishir Shinde/Ram Kadam/Shivajirao Nalawade (Mumbai North-East), Aditya Shirodkar (Mumbai South-Central) and Pravin Darekar (Mumbai North).
"We may contest the polls," said an MNS legislator, admitting that BJP's overtures have caused confusion in the party rank and file. "We will damage the party if we back off from a contest; however, electoral understandings are possible," he added.
"The BJP has weakened MNS by projecting it as a pro-Congress party which ate into the anti-Congress votes... A vote for the MNS is seen as a vote for Rahul Gandhi. Five years ago, the MNS was not a tested political party; what is the MNS programme for the people now? Just Raj Thackeray's speeches?" said a BJP leader.
Raising speculations of a likelihood of the MNS being part of a third-front like alternative in Maharashtra, Peasants and Workers Party (PWP) leader Jayant Patil, Jana Surajya Shakti (JSS) leader Vinay Kore-Savkar and MLC Apurva Hire met Raj Thackeray at his Dadar residence on Thursday.
"We held preliminary discussions regarding uniting all local parties and giving a political alternative to the people," confirmed Kore-Savkar, a former minister.