The vibes between the Raj Thackeray led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and the BJP may cause bad blood between the saffron allies and mar the chances of the Shiv Sena and BJP alliance in the coming Lok Sabha polls, admit Sena and BJP leaders.
They say the Shiv Sena cadre is upset at what it perceives as underhand dealings of the BJP with the MNS.Former BJP president Nitin Gadkari had requested Raj to desist from contesting the Lok Sabha elections to avoid dividing anti-Congress votes.
However, Raj said he would contest the polls but added that if elected, his MPs will support the BJP's prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi.Raj's move is seen as an attempt at retaining traditional Shiv Sena- BJP voters who had shifted to his party and gain support of pro-Modi voters in seats where the Sena will be in the fray, which in turn, may help the Congress- NCP.It is learnt that while Raj may put up candidates against the Sena, he may pick and choose BJP seats, fielding nominees only in seats where the MNS is strong.
Angry Sena leaders question if the BJP's repeated requests for support to the MNS indicate that the party lacks confidence in the perceived Modi wave.Shiv Sena sources charge that the BJP's overtures to the MNS may have given a new lease of life to the party, which was seen as having diminished in stature, after its showing in 2009 where it fielded 12 candidates and caused the defeat of the Sena- BJP in nine seats by splitting votes.
Gadkari's praise for NCP chief and union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, whose party faces off with the Sena in most constituencies, may also widen cleavages between the saffron alliance, they claim, adding that reports of a Pawar- Modi meet have also led to discontent and confusion. After Modi's rise, the BJP is seen as trying to corner the Sena to emerge as the dominant ally in the five party 'Mahayuti,' especially after party chief Bal Thackeray's death in November 2012.
"There is unease in the Sena against the BJP," admitted a senior Sena leader, adding that the BJP's internal politics, where Gadkari is seen at odds with powerful OBC leader and the party's most popular face in Maharashtra—former deputy chief minister Gopinath Munde-- had also influenced the course of events. Gadkari and Munde are seen as being at odds on issues like scrapping toll in the state.The Sena leader rued that the party was not consulted before Gadkari met Raj and made public statements last week. Infact, sources said that after the news broke, incensed Sena leaders had conveyed their objections to Uddhav.
"The reaction to these things will be bad," admitted a senior state BJP leader, adding that Raj's decision to put up candidates had led to a loss of face for them. "Raj was seen to be on the backfoot, but now he has a new lease of life. He will cut into our votes and increase the chances of the Congress- NCP getting a better seat haul ," the leader rued, adding that angry Sena cadre would now think twice before working for BJP candidates.
He predicted that like in 2009, the fragmentation would lead to thinner victory margins.The Sena has a wider social base than the BJP, which despite grassroots leaders like Munde, has been unable to shake off the image of an urbane, upper caste dominated party.Sena and BJP leaders complain that the BJP's outreach to Raj for a non-contest and his decision to spurn the offer may lead to the opposition alliance losing the psycological edge as it created an impression that they could win only if the MNS stayed away.