After a huge so-called 'anger march' against the railway administration in Mumbai, Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) was gearing for a comeback, but has been now badly hit by a major setback as six out of their seven corporators of Mumbai Municipal Corporation have defected from the party and joined Shiv Sena. Now the question is being asked what will be MNS's next move to retain itself in state politics.
Friday was a day of hectic political activity in Mumbai. After the by-polls in Bhandup on Thursday, BJP's tally in the BMC has gone up and now it is just one seat behind Shiv Sena. The Shiv Sena was under threat that it may lose the Mayor's post if BJP overtakes their tally.
Just next day, six MNS corporators including senior party leaders Dilip Lande, Archana Bhalerao, Parmeshwar Kadam, Ashwini Matekar, Harshala More and Datta Narvankar, requested the Mumbai Divisional Commissioner to register the group of these six rebel MNS corporators as a separate group, which could not happen and finally they all joined Shiv Sena.
The party has been on the backfoot ever since its poor performance in the 2014 Assembly, and later on in the Mumbai and Nashik civic elections. Earlier, soon after the foundation of the MNS party, it had tasted huge success, bagging 13 Assembly seats and 28 seats in the BMC. In the next five years, the party could not retain its performance and finally lost the Nashik Municipal Corporation and lost many seats in Mumbai corporation. The party could get only one MLA from Junnar in the assembly in 2014.
Meanwhile, the party had seen large-scale defections, especially by top leaders such as Ram Kadam, Pravin Darekar and Vasant Gite, who joined the BJP. Now, six of its seven corporators in the BMC have defected after its poor performance in the civic polls held earlier this year.
In the past few months, Thackeray has been infusing fresh blood in his party through the appointment of youngsters to key posts and recent anger march had received a huge response and the scenario was changing suddenly as political experts were under impression that the party will revive soon. He has also been seen consistently attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in an attempt to tap into people’s resentment against the ruling party over its controversial demonetisation and GST decisions.
It was indicated that the MNS has softened against the Shiv Sena and decided to target BJP. But meanwhile, the Shiv Sena hit a masterstroke and made their position stronger in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) by defecting 6 corporators from MNS and induced them in the party.
This game of Shiv Sena killed two birds with one stone. Though BJP is a partner in power with Shiv Sena, BJP's main agenda is to eliminate the minor and regional parties and the first target was Shiv Sena. But Shiv Sena has shown them that the party is mature in politics and can tackle all the tactics of BJP to be in power by defeating others.
On the other hand, the MNS has always been Shiv Sena's close rival as it has been eating into the Shiv Sena base silently. After the Bhandup by-polls, the Shiv Sena fear was underlined. BJP leaders were also trying to keep the Shiv Sena under threat.
Though MNS party leaders are claiming that they are not bothered about this defection, as they were traitors. MNS leader Bala Nandgaonkar said that the party's revival programme will not halt and the party will emerge on the political backdrop of the Maharashtra with a new perspective.
It is going to be a very tough time for MNS after the defection of the corporators. Now the party has only one representative in Assembly and Mumbai corporation and five members in Nashik Corporation. This can percolate to other municipal corporations and the rest of Maharashtra, as the party workers are demoralised due to this setback.
On Saturday, the local party workers gathered at MNS chief Raj Thackeray's residence from the area, which the six defected corporators represent. They were saying that they don't have any role in the political drama and they are still with MNS. After meeting with Raj Thackeray, they said that these corporators cheated them and the voters too.
In the house of 227, in the 2017 BMC elections, Shiv Sena won 84 seats. BJP finished a close second with 82. Shiv Sena, however, managed support of three independents, while BJP managed two. One BJP corporator Shailaja Girkar passed away recently but with the Bhandup by-polls going in its favour, BJP managed to keep its numbers intact. But the Sena has sensed that ahead of the 2019 elections, BJP may try to exert pressure on the Shiv Sena by wrestling the BMC from them. But the political developments will certainly lead to more political fireworks in coming days.