All is not well between the Shiv Sena and the BJP. Repeated overtures by BJP leaders to MNS chief Raj Thackeray have put a tremendous strain on the saffron alliance. Former BJP president Nitin Gadkari has met Raj on more than one occasion. It is learnt that a leading builder close to the BJP is also in constant touch with the MNS chief.
The BJP is of the opinion that unless the MNS factor is tackled, history will repeat itself. In 2009, several candidates of the saffron combine were defeated because of the presence of MNS nominees. In the prestigious South Mumbai constituency for instance, Bala Nandgaonkar of the MNS bagged a whopping 1.59 lakh votes which helped sitting Congress MP Milind Deora retain his seat. Similarly, in Mumbai North-West, MNS's Shalini Thackeray got 1.23 lakh votes which enabled Congress's Gurudas Kamat win the seat.
"Whether we like it or not, Raj has the capacity to inflict damage on our alliance with the Shiv Sena. This is a political reality which Uddhav Thackeray should recognise. We are not talking about forging a tie-up with the MNS, but discussing seat adjustments so that anti-Congress votes are not split. The problem is that Uddhav is so obsessed with Raj that he refuses to recognise the ground reality," a senior BJP leader told dna on Saturday.
Shiv Sena MP Anil Desai said: "It is still not clear what the BJP wants to do. The MNS too has not made its stand clear. We are adopting a wait-and-watch approach for now."
However, sources close to Uddhav accused the BJP of trying to bag maximum number of seats at the Sena's expense. They said Gadkari was trying to ensure that the MNS does not field any candidates against its nominees with a view of improving their chances of winning. "Gadkari has no problem if the MNS puts up its nominees against our candidates and thus, ensure their defeat," a Sena leader alleged.
For instance, the BJP is trying to make sure that the MNS does not field its candidate against Kirit Somaiya in Mumbai North-East where he is involved in a triangular fight with sitting MP Sanjay Patil of the NCP and Medha Patkar of AAP. The BJP is not concerned if Raj fields a candidate in South Mumbai since it would ensure the defeat of Sena candidate Arvind Sawant. In fact, the BJP tried very hard to get this important seat, which was earlier represented by its senior leader Jaywantiben Mehta. Malabar Hill MLA Mangal Prabhat Lodha was supposed to be the BJP's nominee.
The Sena is extremely furious with its ally for making last-minute overtures to the MNS without keeping it in the loop. "The BJP is giving unnecessary importance to Raj who has become politically weak since 2009. Even a child knows that Raj is being backed by the Congress. By meeting Raj repeatedly, Gadkari and his supporters are giving a political boost to a person who has lost his credibility. The recent fiasco of Raj's agitation against toll tax is a classic example of not only his declining political clout, but also of his setting with the Congress government. Isn't Gadkari aware of these things?" a Sena leader asked.
Meanwhile, the Sena suffered a setback on Saturday when its youth leader Abhijit Phanse defected to the MNS. Phanse was a leader of the Sena's student wing, Bharatiya Vidyarthi Sena, and was also heading its film wing.