MUMBAI: “No need to listen to whatever he (Prime Minister Narendra Modi) says. We must stick to our stand and go ahead with our pre-decided strategies.” These were Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s instructions to his party leaders this week when they apprised him of Modi’s appeal for cooperation to execute the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project (JNPP) in Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri district, a Shiv Sena stronghold.
The Shiv Sena is vociferously opposing the project on the grounds that it will damage the environment and subsequently the livelihood of lakhs of local fisherfolks. Thackeray has sarcastically suggested shifting the project to Modi’s home state, Gujarat.
Thackeray’s strategy is clear. He does not want to give the BJP a free hand in Maharashtra. The Sena is still smarting over the BJP’s snapping its 27-year-old ties with it over seat sharing in the October 2014 Assembly polls. Thackeray is out to show that the BJP cannot function smoothly without his consent even though it has won more seats. While the Shiv Sena has 63 MLAs, the BJP has 122 in the 288-member House.
Thackeray has been targeting Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis over declining law and order and farmers’ suicides. His attack on the BJP got sharper after the Shiv Sena retained its power in Ambernath municipal council and snatched power from the BJP in Badlapur municipal council three weeks ago. Both of these towns are within 50 km of Mumbai.
“Even though we are part of the government, we will raise our voice on issues concerning the common people. We have supported the government for stability and not for running their agenda. We were with the people and will remain with them,” Thackeray said.
Political observers believe that Thackeray’s tirade against the BJP is aimed at retaining the Sena’s 22-year-old power in the crucial Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), elections for which are due in February 2017. With a whopping annual budget of Rs 33,000 crore, the BMC is Asia’s richest civic body. Its budget is more than that of 16 Indian states.
A senior Shiv Sena leader says that Thackeray believes that the BJP will make seat sharing for BMC elections an issue. “The BJP won 15 Assembly seats in Mumbai, one more than us. They will definitely seek a bigger pie in seat sharing. Uddhavji is not in a mood to give the BJP a bigger share as it will directly affect our fortunes in the city,” the leader said.
Political analyst Hemant Desai says that power in BMC is like oxygen for the Shiv Sena. “The Shiv Sena can dominate in Mumbai because it controls BMC. Thackeray knows that the party can dictate its terms in the city on this basis. He will never let the BJP make inroads and take a dominant position,” Desai said.
A top Mumbai BJP leader says they will contest the BMC elections on their own without the Shiv Sena. “We have 25 lakh party members in Mumbai where the number of voters is around 84 lakh. If we activate all these members, we can win 110 to 140 seats in BMC. So why do we need the Shiv Sena?” he says.
The BJP has already started raising its voice on issues related to commoners in the city. First, it opposed cutting 2,500 trees in Mumbai’s largest remaining green belt, Aarey Milk Colony. Then it was active in opposing the city’s controversial development plan, which has a provision for a big number of constructions. Now, it has launched an agitation demanding more parking space for vehicles.