They may have set the rumour mills abuzz with their 'secret' meeting on Monday, but despite the bonhomie between MNS chief Raj Thackeray and former BJP national president Nitin Gadkari, BJP state leaders don't see any chance of a pre-poll understanding between the two parties.
According to reports, Raj and Gadkari, who will be contesting to the Lok Sabha from Nagpur, met at a five-star hotel in Worli. While some MNS leaders feigned ignorance about the meeting, Shiv Sena leaders are peeved at the overtures being made by the BJP to the MNS.
Raj and Gadkari had recently shared a stage in Nashik, leading to speculations about a likely pact between the MNS and the Shiv Sena-BJP-led five-party 'Mahayuti' (grand alliance), which is incidentally facing seat-sharing issues.
In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, MNS-induced vote-split had led to the defeat of Shiv Sena and BJP nominees in nine of the 12 seats the combine contested. The fact that MNS has not yet revealed its cards vis-a-vis the Lok Sabha elections, has led to speculations about whether Raj, who is an admirer of Narendra Modi, would choose to contest.
However, insiders say it would be pointless for him to stay away from the scene of action when he has the first opportunity, in the post-Bal Thackeray era, to take on his estranged cousin and Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray.
Raj, who is more of an archetypal Shiv Sainik than his soft-spoken cousin, is positioned as his uncle's natural political heir. Though Raj was unavailable for comment despite repeated attempts, MNS sources said the chances of the party not contesting were remote.
"Nitinji and Raj are accessible people and they met to discuss the situation in a Congress-free India," tweeted BJP Mumbai chief and MLC Ashish Shelar. BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari, however, described it as a 'co-incidental meeting' when the two had gone out to have lunch.
"It was a routine meeting," said a BJP leader, adding that the MNS was trying to give it a political spin. "There is little chance of taking Raj into our alliance considering the likely impact that would have on our fortunes in crucial states like UP and Bihar where the anti-MNS sentiments are strong due to the anti-migrant agitations. What is the point in gaining Rs 100 at the cost of Rs 1,000?" he asked.
"Moreover, there is no love lost between Uddhav and Raj," he added, claiming that the popular euphoria surrounding Modi would make MNS a nonentity among voters, especially the educated, middle and upper middle class.
The BJP leader said the anti-toll-agitation fiasco would also affect MNS' standing among the masses. He, however, was quick to add that if MNS candidates were elected, Raj would support Modi.
Another BJP leader said Raj was trying to show his cadres that he enjoyed close relations with the BJP leadership which may accommodate him in the future. The MNS cadre is apparently restless because the party does not have any concrete programme vis-a-vis the polls; it hasn't been able to take issues to their logical end, etc.
He said while the MNS had gained power in Nashik municipal corporation, it hadn't done anything impressive, and that could hamper its electoral fortunes.
Incidentally, Gadkari and Gopinath Munde, one of BJP's tallest mass leaders in the state, are not said to be in the best of terms. Gadkari, who was responsible for the construction of the Mumbai-Pune
Expressway and other toll roads, has taken positions that oppose Munde's announcement of a 'toll-free Maharashtra' if elected to power.