Mumbai/Nagpur: A near-identical finish in the civic polls, a few days of political sniping, and a single phone call after sundown on Friday brought to a close the jockeying by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Shiv Sena for pole position within the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).
With an intractable Sena hardening its position based on the slender lead it has in terms of corporators, and the Congress party announcing it would throw its hat in the ring for the mayor’s position, it was left to Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to reach out to Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray to break the impasse.
But it was not to be.
Following a late Friday evening phone call to Thackeray, Fadnavis on Saturday said the BJP would not support any party other than the Shiv Sena in the BMC.
While Fadnavis confirmed while talking to a leading English Daily that he spoke with the Sena chief on Friday, sources in both parties revealed that Thackeray did not agree to any of the CM’s suggestions for sharing power – particularly on the issue of the Mayor and the BMC Standing Committee – in the country’s richest civic body, reiterating that the Sena was the single-largest party.
Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut told same english daily that not only Fadnavis but his colleagues also tried to convince Thackeray, but decided against contesting any positions once he took a firm stand and told them that come what may, the Sena would have its mayor.
“BJP tried its best and when they were convinced that they cannot win the election, they have gone two steps backwards,” Raut said.
Sources said that after the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena said no one should take it for granted, it was Uddhav Thackeray who tried to talk to cousin and MNS chief Raj but that Raj did not take his calls.
Meanwhile, it again left to Fadnavis to convince his party’s core committee members – among them ministers Sudhir Mungantiwar, Chandrakant Patil, Vinod Tawde and Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shelar – that the party should not contest any of the intra-BMC elections.
Shortly after Fadnavis managed to win over Shelar and Tawde, both of whom had reportedly been pushing for a power-sharing arrangement, the BJP announced that it would not put up a candidate for the mayor’s post or for that of the chairman of the Standing Committee, but would instead remain as a ‘custodian of transparency’.
While the decks have effectively been cleared for the election of Sena candidates to the three key posts of mayor, deputy mayor and the Standing Committee chairman, the party might find itself holding a poisoned chalice.
Fadnavis has made it clear that his party will not allow the Sena a free run, and that the BJP will be a watchdog, a role it is well-equipped to play with numbers that lag the Sena’s electoral count in only single digits.
The Sena can expect a rough ride while passing proposals in various committees as well in the BMC’s general body, given Fadnavis’ ominous statement that his party will take a “tough stand” as and when needed.
As for the critical question of whether the BJP yielded to Sena pressure to save the state government, Fadnavis said, “My government never had any threat and I never received any notice whatsoever. (TV Media) were showing that the Fadnavis Government is on notice. My government is stable and it is not going anywhere.”
Sources revealed that a powerful Nationalist Congress Party leader had also spoken to Thackeray and advised him against toppling the Fadnavis government at the state level as a mid-term election would not help anyone.
The CM also said on Saturday that his government would request the Lokayukta to appoint a separate Uplokayaukta (deputy lokayukta) for Mumbai to ensure further transparency in the administration.
He added that the government has set up a committee to suggest ways to bring transparency in the functioning of municipal corporations across the state, most of which the BJP won in the recent elections. The committee will have former municipal commissioners Ramanath Jha, Sharad Kale and Gautam Chatterjee as members, and will submit its report within three months.
Meanwhile, with the BJP opting out of the race, Shiv Sena’s Vishwanath Mahadeshwar will face Congress candidate Vithal Lokre in the mayoral election slated for March 8.
The Sena has nominated Hemangi Worlikar for the deputy mayor’s post while Winne D’souza. Will be Congress’s candidate. Election for the other statutory committees will be held in the following week.