NEW DELHI: His ties with saffron ally BJP under strain, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray will visit Prime Minister Narendra Modi's constituency Varanasi soon, amid clear indications that the party would contest next year's assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh.
Though Uddhav will visit the holy city apparently to perform Ganga Aarti, the move is being seen as an attempt at testing the political waters in the key Hindi heartland state before taking the electoral plunge. Sena leader Sanjay Raut confirmed Uddhav will visit Varanasi but did not disclose when.
According to sources in the party, the second largest NDA constituent after BJP, it plans to contest around 200 out of the 403 seats in the state, a move which could adversely affect BJP's prospects in the election in which it is likely to try and exploit to the hilt patriotic sentiments in the aftermath of the cross-LoC surgical strikes. Significantly, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi too had launched her party's campaign from Varanasi by staging a massive road show on August two.
Raut, a Rajya Sabha MP, who looks after Shiv Sena's affairs in the state, told PTI that leaders from all the major parties includng BJP, BSP, SP and Congress were in touch with the party which is taking "keen interest" in the elections this time. Raut dismissed suggestions that Shiv Sena was focusing on Uttar Pradesh as a tit-for-tat after local BJP leaders in Mumbai threatened to go it alone in the Municipal elections in the megapolis.
Shiv Sena has been controlling the resource-rich Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) since long with BJP support. "Should the Sena not expand its base?" Raut retorted when asked whether or not his party's plans could upset BJP's applecart in the crucial cow belt state. BJP and Shiv Sena share power both at the Centre and in Maharashtra. He said if BJP felt that way, it should align with his party.
The Sena, he said, also planned to join hands in Goa with rebel RSS leader Subhash Velingkar, whose party Goa Suraksha Manch has decided to take on the BJP in the next elections. Assembly polls in Goa are also scheduled next year. The Sena, sources in the party said, plans to contest around 20 of the 40 seats in Goa, test political waters in Modi's home state Gujarat in the assembly polls, and field candidates in Delhi civic elections. Goa is ruled by the BJP, which also controls Municipal Corporations in Delhi.