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Potential allies to rivals? Why BJP & MNS have been sparring post NCP split

Analysts say BJP is secure in alliance with Shinde-led Sena & Ajit Pawar-led NCP faction, it doesn't need another ally. The MNS voter, though, is anti-NCP, so it can't ally with MVA.

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Mumbai: Around this time last year, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was looking at netting a Thackeray to take on another, making overtures to the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and further rattle Uddhav Thackeray, already maimed by the split in the Shiv Sena.

Now, about a year later, the BJP and the MNS are at loggerheads with the former targeting Raj Thackeray’s son Amit Thackeray for “evading toll tax”, and the MNS lashing back on several fronts — reminding the BJP about the graft allegations it had once made against the Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP) Ajit Pawar, and joining the opposition chorus in criticising the Narendra Modi government on its handling of the ethnic violence in Manipur.

Earlier this month, Pawar joined the government of the BJP and the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena as Deputy CM with a bunch of the party’s MLAs, thus splitting the Sharad Pawar-led NCP.

Much has changed since last year, turning the BJP and MNS from potential friends to prospective rivals, say analysts.

With a split in the Shiv Sena and NCP, the BJP is secure in the saddle, cocooned by the support of the Shinde-led Shiv Sena on one side and the Ajit Pawar-led NCP on the other. The ruling alliance has become a saturated space, leaving little room for another partner to come on board whether directly or through a covert understanding.

Political commentator Hemant Desai told ThePrint, “Post the joining of the Ajit Pawar faction, the BJP doesn’t need the MNS and neither does MNS have much space there. Meanwhile, the MNS has realised that its voter is one who is anti-Congress and NCP, so neither can it join hands with the BJP nor the Opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi.”

The Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) comprises the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray), the Sharad Pawar-led faction of the NCP, and the Congress.

Meanwhile, members of the beleaguered MNS feel there could be more opportunity for the party’s rejuvenation by either charting its independent course or by reuniting the estranged cousins, Raj and Uddhav, party sources told ThePrint. Soon after the NCP split, a ward-level MNS office bearer had even put up a poster urging the Thackeray brothers to unite, according to media reports.

Sources close to Raj Thackeray, however, said the leader has not openly spoken about this possibility and given the history between them, a reunion may be a tall order.

Also read: ‘Bid to capture BMC’ — Why BJP minister’s office at civic body HQ has Oppn up in arms

Twitter war

Over Monday and Tuesday, there was an open war between the BJP and the MNS. The BJP’s Maharashtra unit posted a video on its Twitter handle criticising Raj Thackeray’s son Amit Thackeray for allegedly evading toll tax on the Mumbai-Nagpur Expressway and complaining to the media about having been stopped by toll booth officials for 10 whole minutes.

MNS workers had vandalised the toll booth after the incident.

“Remember, this government is that of the people. Different rules will not be followed here for any one leader or his son,” the video said. At this point, the video showed the images of Amit Thackeray and Uddhav Thackeray’s son Aaditya Thackeray back to back.

The MNS hit back by sharing a statement of Amit Thackeray saying if the ruling parties were not busy breaking parties, the landslide at Irshalwadi could have been avoided. In a tweet, the party said this statement stung so much, “the world’s largest party has come down heavily on a 31-year-old youth”.

The party also reposted old tweets of BJP Maharashtra making corruption allegations against Ajit Pawar, as well as criticised the state government for multiple issues such as the death of a 23-year old due to tuberculosis in Gadchiroli or a pregnant woman being taken to the hospital through flood waters in Palghar.

Speaking to ThePrint, MNS leader Yashwant Killedar said the courtesy visits between Raj Thackeray and BJP leaders are “out of a personal relation and should not be confused with the MNS’ role as a political party”.

“If the government does something wrong, if the ruling parties are doing something wrong, don’t we, as a party, have the right to put forth a stand? It is, after all, a democracy. The courtesy visits have happened, and may still happen in the future. But the MNS will stay true to its role as a political party and call out the government when it is wrong,” he said.

From bonhomie to criticism

Between last year and now, there were several courtesy meetings between BJP leaders and Raj Thackeray. Sources from both the parties said that the two outfits were warming up to the idea of having some understanding if not an open alliance for all coming polls, especially the election to the Mumbai civic body.

While MNS has been facing near routs electorally since 2014, the Raj Thackeray-led party can still play spoiler for the Shiv Sena (UBT) in certain wards in Mumbai.

A senior MNS leader, who wished to not be named, told ThePrint, “At the time it was thought that the MNS’ best chance of rejuvenating in Mumbai was to tie up with the BJP and attract the Marathi votes away from Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena. Our voter though is one who has been anti-Congress and NCP, and this changed political situation doesn’t hold the above argument as valid anymore.”

The MNS severely criticised the split in the NCP and the Ajit Pawar faction joining the government. Earlier this month, a day before the monsoon session of the legislature was scheduled to begin, media reports quoted Raj Thackeray as saying that the politics playing out in Maharashtra over the past two years is deplorable and there is anger in every household.

(Edited by Smriti Sinha)

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