Simmering bad blood between the party workers may cost them a few seats
Though BJP and Shiv Sena have put aside their differences and settled on a seat-sharing arrangement for the Lok Sabha polls, the alliance has failed to gel on the ground level.
The Sena and BJP workers were campaigning for incumbent South Mumbai MP Arvind Sawant in a narrow lane in one of the island city's crowded business districts when a Sena loyalist had a moment of epiphany.
"While the BJP workers are shouting 'Phir ek bar Modi sarkar' with great gusto, Shiv Sainiks are finding it tough to mouth these lines," he observed.
The Shiv Sena and BJP may have made up after almost five years of relentless sniping, but nothing better illustrates the ground reality of the new-found bonhomie between the two. The Shiv Sena, which had earlier announced it would contest all elections sans an alliance with the BJP, made a U-turn later to tie-up for the Lok Sabha polls.
While the alliance is facing its acid test in the Lok Sabha elections, much water has flown under the bridge. An undercurrent of the rivalry between the two parties is contained in Mumbai's linguistic faultlines — that of the Shiv Sena's traditional Maharashtrian support base resenting the growing socio-cultural assertion by non-Maharashtrians, especially those aligned with the BJP.
Shiv Sena and BJP leaders admit that this bad blood may cost them a few seats, including those seen as traditional saffron strongholds.
"Shiv Sainiks need an adversary to be mobilised. For five years, our leaders had typecast the BJP as our rival. We fought the state assembly and BMC elections against them. How can we work shoulder-to-shoulder with them now," questioned a Shiv Sainik from South Central Mumbai.
A BJP functionary admitted their workers were upset at the relentless criticism by the Sena leadership against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other BJP leaders and were not in a hurry to forgive or forget.
"There is a perception that some Sena MPs in Mumbai have reached out only to Marathi-speakers. However, despite the bad blood, some BJP supporters may vote for the Shiv Sena to ensure a mandate for Modi," he explained.
"The basic difference in this and previous elections is the lack of coordination and enthusiasm in the workers of the two parties. There is no sense of ownership in the Sena rank-and-file in constituencies where the BJP is contesting and vice-versa. Though local MLAs are working for these nominees as they are wary of their prospects in the state assembly polls, this seems to be a facade," the BJP leader claimed.
A senior Shiv Sena leader admitted that the change in the city's demographic profile had put the party on a weaker wicket. "In tony areas like Malabar Hill, Colaba and Lokhandwala, high-brow voters will vote for us only if the BJP works on that last-mile. These people are not our natural constituents. Also, we also have to contend with the Raj Thackeray factor," he said.
The MNS chief is campaigning for the Congress- NCP, albeit in a subtle manner. Despite its electoral depletion, the MNS still commands the loyalty of a section of Marathi youth, women and cultural elite.
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