As MNS played spoilsport, Shiv Sena lost in council polls

The Congress may deny the role played by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena in its victory in the June 10 Legislative Council elections, but the fact remains that MNS chief Raj Thackeray played ball. The Congress fielded three official candidates and backed an independent Congressman Vijay Sawant. With 82 elected MLAs and one nominee, the party had to rely on independents and smaller parties for support. So was placed its coalition partner, the Nationalist Congress Party, which with 62 seats fielded three candidates. For winning a Council seat, a candidate has to get the support of 27 MLAs.

Unmistakable trade-off

As in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections since the formation of the MNS, in this poll too, the Congress-NCP gained at the cost of the Sena. Anil Parab, a strong contender, lost the council poll much to the delight of the ruling parties. The 13 MNS legislators were the major factor that led to the victory of all seven candidates of the Congress and the NCP. And the trade-off was clear as specified by Mr. Thackeray at a press conference: revocation of the suspension of the four MNS MLAs.

While Chief Minister Ashok Chavan and Pradesh Congress Committee president Manikrao Thakre have stoutly denied that they ever asked for MNS support, the numbers give the game away. The MNS has no obligation to support the Sena, which is stung by the fact that once again the Congress has triumphed at its cost. Allegations of horse-trading are flying thick and fast and the Sena has threatened to go to the Election Commission.

Mr. Chavan, countering allegations of horse-trading, said he would campaign for an open ballot system in council elections. But there is no need for an open ballot system to show who voted for whom. In fact, staunch allies of the Sena, the Peasants and Workers Party (PWP) voted for the Bharatiya Janata Party this time, helping its two candidates win. The elections only reconfirm the MNS' role as a spoiler for the Sena and it portends disaster for the saffron party, which is faced with a major civic election in Mumbai in 2012.

The Congress-NCP alliance has carefully nurtured the MNS and its tacit and this time, open support, has come in handy time and again.

Change in stand

The Congress has come a long way from the days of Jawaharlal Nehru, who famously said in 1954: “I am prepared to lose every election in India but to give no quarter to communalism or casteism.” The party is now encouraging the MNS, which launched a vicious sectarian battle against north Indians. It favours revocation of the suspension of four MNS members whose violent behaviour in the Assembly was unprecedented. In fact, Mr. Thakre publicly declared that the suspension was something the party could not help, it was the Legislature which was authorised to do so.

Like-minded parties all

To be fair to the MNS, it supported its arch-rival also in the Ambarnath municipal council recently. With the help of six MNS councillors, the Sena won the post of council president. But in the Kulgaon-Badlapur municipal council, the MNS helped the NCP and the BJP defeat the Sena for council president. Before the Assembly elections, Mr. Raj Thackeray said the MNS would support any party provided he identified himself with its agenda. If it was likeminded, the MNS would not have a problem supporting that party. In a span of one month, he found like-mindedness in the Congress, the NCP, the BJP and the Sena. While the MNS can be dismissed as a loose cannon, its strength in the Assembly — 13 — has come in handy for a Congress-NCP sweep in the council elections.

Even earlier, the MNS wreaked havoc on the Sena, helping the Congress-NCP win all six seats in the Lok Sabha elections in Mumbai by dividing the Marathi vote, and decimating it in the Assembly polls. Clearly, the Sena is still recovering from its worst ever performance in the 2009 Assembly elections. In this council election, it could not muster the support of even staunch allies like the PWP and was left floundering by the superior machinations of its partner, the BJP, and its rivals, the Congress and the NCP.

As a party with money and clout, the Congress has emerged unrivalled. The media are hailing Mr. Chavan for his confidence in getting four Congress candidates elected, which in reality was a remote possibility, and calling it a “win-win” situation. Mr. Chavan's rivals, State Revenue Minister Narayan Rane and Union Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh wanted a fourth candidate to contest the council polls and they seemed to be proved right. Mr. Rane did not deny the MNS would support the Congress. The Congress once wooed the Sena and still had a love-hate relationship with that party. Ironically, it is the MNS now which is being used to counter the Sena and clearly it has emerged as a key factor in the State's political games.

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