BMC polls: Will Raj Thackeray finally upstage Bal Thackeray?

BMC polls: Will Raj Thackeray finally upstage Bal Thackeray?

The much-anticipated BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections, which provide a whiff of the electoral winds in Maharashtra, are just over. The sealed ballot boxes containing the BMC poll results will not only reveal the fate of aspiring candidates, but will provide an exegesis for both established and fledgling political parties indicating chinks  in their outfits.

The BMC elections are not being viewed by major battle-players as the only fort to be conquered; it is being used as a chessboard chequered with pawns for consolidating positions for the 2014 elections for both state Assembly and Parliament.

Notwithstanding alliances cobbled under political expediency by political parties for one of the country’s richest municipal corporations, each one of them is eyeing independent expansion of its base and cut into the ally’s turf to emerge as a force for the bigger battle two years away.

The BMC elections in all likelihood may spring surprises; it is the Shiv Sena (SS) lording over BMC thus far, which is waiting with bated breath for the results. For a party which rose espousing a quasi-xenophobic ideology with the tacit support from upper-caste orthodoxy, the 2012 civic polls have scripted out a ‘do or die,’ scenario.

For the ageing Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, this was perhaps the last election where he would play an active role. Knowing fully well the diminishing attraction of SS to the voters, Bal Thackeray entered into an alliance with Ramdas Athavale-led faction of the Republican party of India (RPI) in a last ditch effort to garner support from the Dalits. This move by a party which had always clashed with the Dalits in the past --even bearing the brunt of attacks by the Ambedkarites -- shook the rank and file of SS. It forced old-timers to accept that the sands of power were receding at a fast pace.

But for SS there was no other option. It’s long-time ally, BJP had always thrived in the city by piggy-back riding without contributing anything to garner votes. Moreover, SS also knows that behind the gleaming smiles and handshakes, BJP leaders are just waiting to slash its throat and tie-up with its arch-enemy, the estranged cousin, Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).

The tie-up between SS and RPI has not gone down well with the BJP which had always stood for Brahamnical structures. But being an astute politician, Bal Thackeray had already read the writing on the wall as his mass base had shrunk over the years to a motley of people who were politically over-the-hill. Apart from the older generation, Bal Thackeray knew that the other batch of supporters for his party in the corporation hall, “are the hangers-on with a ruthless monetised vision, who perch on branches where power hangs.” He also realises that his enfant terrible nephew, Raj Thackeray is the new power king waiting-in-the-wings.

Political gun

Ironically, even as the old political gun desperately smoked out his oft-repeated jokes in public rallies , MNS leader Raj managed to emerge as an icon for the young-educated urban voters in the city. The GenY loves the way Raj swears and hurls caustic barbs at every political party. For Raj Thackeray, the time has never been so good.

Always under a shadow, Raj Thackeray after forming MNS in 2006, threw the gauntlet at every political outfit and specially to SS in 2007 civic elections. Though his party managed to make a debut in civic polls by garnering an impressive 12 seats in Nashik Municipal Corporation (NMC,) the MNS leader was not happy with the results in BMC where it gleaned 7 seats and Pune civic body where it obtained 8 seats.

As per the game plan, Raj Thackeray wanted to make deep inroads into BMC and then move to Pune and later to Nashik. Everyone with a modicum of political acumen knows that BMC had served as the monetary life-line for SS. A deep dent into its BMC bastion would expedite the collapse of an already crumbling party.

After Mumbai, it is Pune which is the most urbanised town in the state and its influence on the upper-caste Maharashtrians across the state is considerable. And Raj Thackeray is not eyeing just the conquering of BMC but in his own words to the media: “We are not looking at the present. We are looking at 2014, and beyond.”

The Congress-NCP alliance may be ruling the state, but in the BMC elections, they are not a big force to reckon with.The two together form the Democratic Front (DF) --Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP.) Congress leaders despite being weak on the rural front, deliberately dole out a step-motherly treatment to its ally NCP.

NCP, on the other hand, has been managing to arm-twist Congress using its powerful hold on kulaks in the interiors who command the vote-bank in rural areas. And it is precisely for this reason that both Congress and NCP, behind the joie de vivre, continue to play cloak-and-dagger with each other in the shadowy political alleys.

Till the time it was upstaged by SS, the Congress always had a stranglehold over BMC, but over the years it’s power has been gradually waning. NCP leaders know this political reality. It also knows that 2012 civic polls was the time to strike at Congress vote bank in Mumbai, if it wants to grab power in the state and increase its stature in the next parliamentary elections.