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Will Congress-NCP gain from Uddhav-Raj battle?

By Neeta Kolhatkar
March 10, 2014 18:33 IST
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Raj ThackerayBJP leader Nitin Gadkari's move to get Raj Thackeray's support for the Lok Sabha election has boomeranged.

Shiv Sena boss Uddhav Thackeray is angry and both Gadkari and Raj Thackeray risk losing credibility.

This may help the Congress-NCP alliance, feels Neeta Kolhatkar.

Just when early opinion polls predicted that the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance would defeat the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance in Maharashtra, the BJP and Sena leaders have got themselves in a mess.

Even the Congress-NCP could not have imagined that it would have it this easy with a fractured Opposition. With the entry of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, contesting only against Sena candidates, the predictions of a Congress-NCP rout may be proved erroneous.

From January, the Opposition -- mainly the BJP and Sena -- began garnering allies to ensure that anti-Congress-NCP votes don't get divided. These efforts were spearheaded by Gopinath Munde, the BJP's planner and manager of elections in Maharashtra. Munde got all the BJP-Sena allies under one banner -- Maha Yuti, grand unity.

Obviously, not to get sidelined, former BJP president Nitin Gadkari -- Munde's rival in Maharashtra politics -- has been getting people like Satyapal Singh, the former Mumbai police commissioner, and others to join the party.

In the midst of all this, there are plans to give the Mumbai North Central Lok Sabha seat to BJP leader Ashish Shelar and get MNS President Raj Thackeray's support for that crucial seat.

Now the Thackeray cousins cannot stand each other and the MNS's sole purpose is to finish the Shiv Sena.

Gadkari and Shelar met the MNS chief without consulting other state leaders and allies. Gadkari apparently obtained Narendra Modi's mandate to seek Raj Thackeray's support.

Shelar couldn't resist tweeting Gadkari and his meeting with the MNS president. Meanwhile, Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray lambasted his cousin Raj at a rally. In the middle of his discussion with Gadkari, Raj Thackeray was informed of his cousin's outburst.

Obviously slighted, he showed the message to Gadkari, saying this overture for peace was pointless when Uddhav felt so insecure and was given to public outbursts.

Gadkari emerged from the meeting and told the media that he had met Raj to ensure the Opposition vote was not splintered and to ensure that this helped Modi become prime minister.

However, the issue boomeranged on all.

It created a wedge between the BJP and the Shiv Sena. For three days, the Sena newspaper Saamna criticised Raj Thackeray and Gadkari. Gadkari put his party in a tight situation.

While it is no secret that the Congress has used the MNS and its president to its advantage, Gadkari's attempt was meant to negate that. However, with Uddhav's outburst, Raj secured an easy escape route.

Till Sunday there were strong rumours that the MNS would not contest the Lok Sabha election. The MNS does not have an effective second rung leadership and the party had made little impact in the 2009 general election.

The MNS was also worried about its prospects in the Maharashtra assembly election, which will be fought later this year.

This controversy is like oxygen for the MNS which has sprung back in the race. Raj Thackeray has now announced that he will field MNS candidates only in Lok Sabha constituencies where the Shiv Sena is in the fray.

Uddhav's political miscalculation has cost him, and this also does not give the BJP any lease of life, as the party remains further fractured, with Gadkari losing credibility.

Finally, this has eroded Raj's credibility. He has to deal with insinuations that he is helping both the Congress and the BJP, and obviously not for charity.

Image: Maharashtra Navnirman Sena founder-President Raj Thackeray.

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