Alliance or not, BJP keen to see Raj Thackeray rise to foil Sena

Ahead of the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS)’s Aurangabad rally, one key question doing the rounds in the political circles is whether the BJP will tie up with the MNS for the upcoming Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls. While both parties have been signalling their growing closeness, there continues to be uncertainty if and when they will forge an alliance.

Raj is all set to hold a rally in Aurangabad on May 1 to protest against the use of loudspeakers at mosques. He has also given an ultimatum to the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA)-led Maharashtra government, headed by Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray, to remove loudspeakers from mosques across the state before May 3, or else the MNS activists would take to the streets and read out Hanuman Chalisa outside mosques.

Referring to the MNS chief’s rally, Maharashtra BJP president Chandrakant Patil said, “Finally, the suspense is over and the state government gave its nod to Raj Thackeray for the rally. Each and every individual in the state and outside is anxiously waiting for his rally. Let us wait and watch what he says.”

In recent months the state BJP leaders have been spotted with Raj on various occasions. Patil, who has also admitted meeting the MNS leader a few times recently, however declined to comment on the issue of the BJP-MNS alliance.

Last November, Leader of Opposition and ex-chief minister Devendra Fadnavis along with his wife Amruta attended a luncheon hosted by Raj at his new house in Mumbai’s Dadar.

On the BJP-MNS tie-up, senior BJP leader Sudhir Mungantiwar said, “In politics nothing is impossible. But at this moment there is no proposal for any BJP-MNS alliance. I cannot predict what will happen tomorrow.”

The BJP has clearly taken a “wait and watch” stance over the alliance question, even as the party has been making moves to strengthen the MNS to ensure that it could make dents in the Shiv Sena’s vote bank in the state.

A senior BJP functionary, who wanted anonymity, told The Indian Express, “At this point of time it is decided that BJP and MNS will not have any formal alliance. But BJP will do all the hand-holding to ensure MNS makes deep inroads into Sena bases.”

The two-pronged strategy adopted by the saffron party is to prop up the MNS chief as a Hindutva leader, facilitating it through a narrative that the Uddhav-led Sena has “compromised” its Hindutva ideology for power by joining hands with the Congress and the NCP and forming their MVA coalition. Raj is thus being groomed as the new Hindutva leader, who can provide an alternative platform to such Shiv Sainiks who may be getting disgruntled over the perceived dilution of the Sena’s ideology.

The MNS’s decision to embrace hard Hindutva was not an overnight move: It has been planned meticulously over the past couple of years. As part of this makeover, the outfit first changed its flag, redesigning it in saffron shade entirely to reiterate its commitment to Hindutva. The images of Raj draped in a saffron shawl was well-publicised. It was recently followed by the MNS leader upping the ante over the loudspeaker row, which has put the state administration and police on the tenterhooks.

Taking a swipe at the Uddhav dispensation last Thursday, Raj hailed the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government for removing loudspeakers from religious places in Uttar Pradesh, charging that “Unfortunately in Maharashtra we don’t have any ‘yogis’; what we have are ‘bhogis’ (hedonists)”. He had also declared earlier that he will soon visit Ayodhya and meet the UP CM.

An MNS leader said, “MNS decision to focus on Hindutva agenda now is part of the process of its political expansion, which is natural. If we look at late Bal Thackeray’s politics he focused on issues concerning Marathi manoos (son of soil). Gradually, he moved to Hindutva.”

Observers also make the point that the Hindutva-centred politics may help the MNS get more acceptability among non-Marathi voters. In Mumbai, Marathis make up about 26 per cent of voters, with the remaining 64 per cent comprising of North Indians, Gujaratis, and others.

Secondly, the MNS has also been making attempts to break away from its old image of being anti-North Indians. A significant step in this regard is his planned visit to the Ram temple at Ayodhya next month, which will be followed by a meeting with Adityanath.

Senior BJP vice-president Madhav Bhandari claimed: “Everybody is free to go to Ayodhya or meet UP CM. We are not going to strike any alliance with anybody. The BJP will contest all elections on its own.”

Another saffron party leader, however, said, “If MNS succeeds in cornering five to seven per cent Shiv Sena votes, it will make a huge impact on the Mumbai civic polls. The BJP’s key agenda is to dislodge the Sena from the BMC.”

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