In a recent meeting at Shiv Sena Bhawan in Mumbai’s Shivaji Park, Aaditya Thackeray confined his discussions mostly to Lok Sabha elections and state assembly polls.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls were not discussed at length. Those present at the meeting claimed that the party is sure of performing better than the expectations.
Aaditya Thackeray, a former minister and the son of Uddhav Thackeray, who led the three party alliance Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) in the state, held a series of meetings on Tuesday. It even included the core committee meeting of the Yuva Sena — the youth wing of which Aaditya is the president.
Those present at the meeting claimed that a major portion of the discussion hovered around the Lok Sabha and assembly polls, which are scheduled to be held in 2024. Before that the BMC goes to the poll, but this election wasn’t discussed in detail.
Why it is surprising because BMC, with a budget of Rs 45,000 crore, is the richest municipal corporation. The Shiv Sena led by Uddhav Thackeray has held power here for an uninterrupted two decades and yet in the first meeting of the year, Aaditya decided to focus on Lok Sabha and assembly polls, which in all probability, will be held after the BMC polls.
Suraj Chavan, deputy leader of the Shiv Sena who attended the meetings, says in Mumbai the party organisation is in place.
Chavan hinted at the Shiv Sena’s strong sakha system that the Eknath Shinde rebellion couldn’t penetrate, at least in Mumbai. This is visible with majority of corporators staying back with Uddhav, except for three to four who sided with Shinde. Shiv Sena had 84 corporators in the BMC, and their term ended last February.
In the BMC elections, it is the shakhas and the cadre who play a vital role. When Chavan spoke about the organisation he clearly meant the shakhas which are still power centres in Mumbai.
Shakhas for a long time have handled local issues. There was a time, when disputes reached the shakhas first then to the police station, and these 200 plus shakhas in Mumbai are still in the hands of the Uddhav-led faction.
Hardly any shakha pramukh has abandoned the party, and a very few switched sides in Mumbai unlike what happened in Thane, the neighbouring district and a stronghold of Eknath Shinde.
Mumbai is a stronghold of Uddhav and, probably, that is the reason why in all the meetings that were held in the recent times, it wasn’t the BMC that hogged the agenda, but Lok Sabha and assembly elections.
Vikrant Joshi, who keeps a tab on Maharashtra’s political and power circles, claimed that leaders may have abandoned Uddhav but his cadre in Mumbai is still with him.
“In Parel, Dadar, Girgaum, and several other pockets the cadre is still with Uddhav, and that probably will make things difficult for the BJP,” he said.
Unlike other areas of the state where local leaders like Shinde, Gulabrao Patil, Bhavana Gawli, and others have made their mark, in Mumbai it always has been the Thackerays and the Matoshree that remained the power centre. Even when Anand Dighe rose, in Thane and nearby districts, in Mumbai, Matoshree held the reins.
The BMC has seen only one party mayor for two decades and that party is Shiv Sena. Even in 2017 BMC polls when the BJP and Shiv Sena contested elections separately, the Shiv Sena managed to win more seats. This probably gives Uddhav Thackeray the confidence that his party won’t fare as bad in BMC that many political pundits have predicted.
But what keeps a machine running is oil, and a political machine needs power and money to run.
Till the time the BMC had a Shiv Sena mayor, the issue of funds never arose. The BMC budget for the year 2022-23 was Rs 45,949 crore. With no corporator, no mayor and no standing committee chairman, the funds from BMC may become scarce.
The Shiv Sena as a party may have the cadre, but funds may become an issue in the long run. The BMC since February has an administrator looking after it. The BJP and Shinde Sena government has a complete hold of the BMC, and they can do whatever they want to as there are no corporators to object.
The Uddhav faction will face a major fund shortage and as the elections are postponed the shortage will increase.
While many factors in Mumbai are working in favour of Uddhav, there is equally a good number of factors working against him and his party.
Firstly, while many corporators remained loyal to Uddhav, two of his three members of Parliament in Mumbai joined hands with Shinde. At the same time, many MLAs have also joined hands with Shinde. Of the 14 more than half are still loyal to Matoshree.
At the Tuesday meeting, Aaditya Thackeray saw his Yuva Sena treasurer and a long time associate Amey Ghole giving the meeting a miss. Ghole was a BMC Corporator.
The mobilisation of the cadre is a big task, and with Uddhav’s health it will be difficult for him to be on field for a longer period. His son Aaditya is holding meetings but he lacks that connect. Many in Sena feel that Aaditya is too suave for the cadre and like Rahul Gandhi hasn’t been able to make that connection with the party workers.
The BJP is growing which also is a concern for the Shiv Sena. The BJP which before 2017 had mere 31 seats went on to become the second biggest party with 82 corporators in the BMC. The Shiv Sena had only two more corporators, that is 84.
The BJP, in the last eight years, has emerged as the big brother abandoning the role of a second fiddle that it played for two decades to the Shiv Sena. The relationship between BJP and Shiv Sena (Uddhav) isn’t cordial. The BJP has more MLAs and MPs than Uddhav in Mumbai.
While Uddhav is alone, BJP has a barrage of leaders in Mumbai, the state and even Delhi. BJP as an organisation is strong and cash rich which will enable the party to fight from a higher ground.
The Congress, which is an MVA ally, has several leaders openly voicing discomfort contesting along side Uddhav’s Sena in the BMC polls. The NCP led by Sharad Pawar, the strongest partner of Uddhav, right now doesn’t have much of a presence in Mumbai, it has just one MLA, who is in jail.
Uddhav has to fight the battle of BMC alone, but his shakhas are still intact in Mumbai and that’s the only hope. No wonder that Uddhav isn’t much worried about BMC but wants to cover ground in the Lok Sabha where majority have abandoned the party and the assembly where almost all the MLAs left him.
Varun Singh, is a Mumbai-based journalist and tracks politics and other important news from the western region of the country. Varun has spent close to 18 years in journalism.
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