'homecoming' (Eds: Clubbing the MNS series) Mumbai, Oct 13 (PTI) Delivering a body blow to its arch rival, the Shiv Sena today inducted six out of the seven corporators of the Raj Thackeray-led MNS in its fold, a day after the ruling BJP narrowed the gap to match the Sena's tally of 82.
Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray termed the development "gharwapsi" whereas the BJP called it "horse trading".
In a shrewd political move, the Uddhav Thackeray-led party has not only improved its tally in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) but has virtually uprooted the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), floated by Uddhav's cousin Raj Thackeray in 2006, from the political landscape in Mumbai.
With today's development, Shiv Sena's strength in the 227-member BMC has risen to 90, eight more than the BJP, a senior Sena leader said.
In the BMC polls held in February this year, the Sena had won 84 seats, and the BJP 82.
The Sena also enjoys the support of four independent corporators, while the BJP has the support of two independents.
The MNS has now left with just a single corporator in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).
The development comes a day after BJP nominee Jagruti Patil defeated Sena's Meenakshi Patil in a bypoll in suburban Bhandup. A victory here would have taken the BJP's tally to 83, however, it remained 82 due to death of a BJP corporator from western suburbs last month.
Sena and BJP, though allies in the Centre and Maharashtra governments, do not have a formal tie-up in the BMC.
MNS corporators Dilip Lande, Archana Bhalerao, Snehal More, Datta Narvankar, Parashuram Kadam and Ashwini Matekar joined the Sena in presence of party chief Uddhav Thackeray.
Addressing the media after inducting the corporators in the party, Thackeray, in an apparent reference to the fact that the MNS was an offshoot of his party, said nobody should accuse the Sena of "poaching" the corporators as this was "homecoming".
In a dig at the BJP, Thackeray said, "Poaching took place in Arunachal Pradesh and Goa. Today, it is only 'Ghar Wapsi'.
There is no ulterior motive behind inducting the MNS corporators and it was done only after they expressed their desire to join the Shiv Sena".
Attacking the BJP, he said, "They (BJP) must have realised our strength now after seeing what can we do in one day".
Dilip Lande, one of the six corporators, said the main reason behind joining the Sena was "the BJP's plan to oust the Marathi mayor from his post".
"We joined the Sena for the welfare of the Marathi people," he said.
Sena leader Anil Parab said he has written a letter to the Konkan division commissioner, informing him about the induction of six MNS corporators in the party.
MNS spokesperson Avinash Abhyankar said if these corporators had defected to the Sena, then "appropriate action will be initiated against them".
Manoj Kotak, group leader of the BJP in the BMC, termed the induction of MNS corporators in the Shiv Sena as "betrayal of voters".
"This is not just horse-trading, but a betrayal of promise made to the Mumbaikars. We have demanded that Konkan commissioner, police commissioner and the Anti-Corruption Bureau investigate the matter and initiate action against the the mastermind of this episode," he said.
Addressing reporters, Thackeray took a swipe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying the 'Modi wave' has waned and that the BJP now relies on "sympathy wave" to win elections.
He said the national party gets "stomach ache" if the Sena becomes politically strong.
"The Modi wave has waned now. The BJP has to rely on sympathy wave to win polls and bypolls. If they (the BJP) get stomach ache with our increased strength, what kind of allies are they?" Thackeray asked.
The defection has come as a big setback for MNS, whose political fortunes are steadily on decline in Mumbai, its home turf, as well in rest of Maharashtra.
MNS had 27 corporators after the 2012 BMC elections.
The number dwindled to 7 in the 2017 polls, and is now reduced to just one after today's dramatic development.
Similarly, the party's tally in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly has come down from an impressive 13 after the 2009 polls to just one MLA after the 2014 elections.
The party's fortunes, which were on the upswing after it came to power in the Nashik Municipal Corporation in 2012, declined in the next polls, with many of its corporators in the north Maharashtra city quitting ahead of the polls.
Now, there are just five MNS corporators in Nashik--three in Pune and one in Pimpri civic bodies, once considered pockets of influence of the 11-year-old party.
MNS had projected itself as a better alternative to Sena on the "sons-of-the-soil" issue.
Of late, Raj Thackeray tried to revive his party and had taken out a morcha on the Western Railway headquarters at Churchgate earlier this week over the death of 23 people in a stampede on the staircase of a foot overbridge (FOB) last month. PTI APM MM VT VT ND KRK RSY NSK SRY .
This is unedited, unformatted feed from the Press Trust of India wire.