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Domestication of the tiger
Dissidence and rebellion rock Shiv Sena
By MH Lakdawala 

Mumbai: Dissidence indicates the domestication of the tiger. Widespread rebellion rocked Shiv Sena as the party released the list of nominees for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections. Worse, senior Sena leader Raj Thackeray, who is said to be upset about the list, has decided to keep away from the party's month-long campaign for elections to 10 municipal corporations, including the BMC and the Thane civic body. 

M.Sarpotdar, senior Sena leader, downplayed the rift between Raj and Uddhav Thackeray. "The Sena is like one big family and there are bound to be some differences. But everyone respects Balasaheb, who is the head of the clan." However, he agreed that there is trouble brewing in the party. He pointed out that it was time the party thoroughly checks the credentials of new entrants. "People have come in this party for their own vested interests, achieved their goals and left. Everybody wants to become a corporator, MLA, and MP, overnight. They forget that there are people who have been loyal to the party for over 30 years and are still working hard." The February 10 elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) will be a political test for Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray. This is the first major challenge he is facing since he occupied the number two slot in the party - next only to his father Bal Thackeray - two years ago. 

With the senior Thackeray, whose 75th birthday will be celebrated later this month, effectively letting the low-profile Uddhav, who has remained untouched by any controversy, handle the crucial polls, the young leader is busy preparing for the task ahead. 
In the past two years, Uddhav has concentrated on building the party organisation and knows most of the party activists by their first names. All the 'vibhag pramukhs' or district chiefs are fiercely loyal to him, and they have been assigned the crucial role of vetting applications for tickets. This has naturally vested 'vibhag pramukhs' with enormous clout. In the past, senior party leaders used to lobby for their favourite candidates.This has led to lots of resentment at the grassroots level. 

Shiv Sena received yet another setback recently with party nominated sitting MLC and noted litterateur Shantaram Nandgaonkar joining the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) even as the Sharad Pawar-led political party continued to attract "disgruntled" members of the saffron combine. Nandgaonkar, who was nominated to the upper house of the state legislature by Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, told Milli Gazette that "though I am not a primary member of the Sena, I disapproved their policies".

The renowned poet, whose tenure in the upper house is to expire this January end, alleged that his voice was being "muzzled in the organisation". He, however, hastened to add that he was nominated in the state legislative council, as a litterateur. 

Nandgaonkar's joining NCP comes close on the heels of former Sena MLA Gurunath Desai switching loyalties to NCP. Along with Nandgaonkar, Sushila Digambar Dhotre, a BJP corporator from neighbouring Thane district also joined NCP. 

For the Sena, the soon-to-come polls are crucial for at least two reasons. First, the battle of the ballot will indicate the popular mood vis-a-vis the Congress-led Democratic Front (DF) government as well as the saffron Sena-BJP opposition combine. 

Second, the Sena will utilise the opportunity to assess its progress in terms of organisational expansion and the status of its social/caste base. The two-year-old DF government is largely seen as a juggernaut whose pace has been hampered by a series of contentious issues, including the long-drawn row between the DF partners over Enron. A sense of despondency seems to have gripped the Sena following the party leadership's failure to redeem its oft-repeated and much-publicised pledge to oust the DF government and re-instal the Sena-BJP regime in Maharashtra. 

By announcing a deadline after deadline for toppling the Vilasrao Deshmukh ministry, Mr Thackeray, as it were, raised his followers' expectations to a feverish pitch over the last two years. However, with several attempts of the Sena to annex Mantralay, the state government headquarters, coming to nought, party workers slipped into inertia. 

The utter vulnerability of the opposition Shiv Sena-BJP may be judged by the fact that the Alliance plans to play the Hindutva card in a bid to checkmate the Congress and the Sharad Pawar-led NCP. According to Sena-BJP strategists, the new-fangled 'Rashtrawaad (nationalism) versus Aatankwaad (terrorism)' agenda will help mobilise the majority community, leaving the Congress and the NCP locked in a competition for Muslim votes. 'The Congress and the NCP will suffer at the hustings if they are seen to be vying to woo Muslims. The NCP's opposition to the Centre's ban on SIMI is a ploy to placate the minority community. Let the two parties haggle over Muslim votes. We will safeguard our constituency,'' a senior BJP leader told Milli Gazette. 

Expanding on the 'aatankwaad' theme, a key Sena leader said, 'we will not put local and civic issues on the backburner. But terrorism will be our central plank in the election campaign. We are sure that we will carry the majority with us.' 

While the alliance is hopeful of retaining its electoral clout in urban areas, it is unsure about a favourable result in the district-level elections. 'We will bag the Mumbai, Thane, Mira-Bhayander and Kalyan-Dombivli civic bodies. However, in rural areas, the Congress and the NCP have a well-oiled network of cooperative factories, banks, credit societies and educational institutions. This will make it tough for the Sena-BJP,' a former BJP minister said. 

'If I have to get people's work done I will defect to ten different political parties. But I will not accept the gulamgiri (slavery) of a political party merely to cushion my interests. That is not my kind of politics.' These brave words are from the strongman of Jalgaon, Suresh Jain (58), who has decided to end his four-year long courtship with the Shiv Sena and is veering towards the Sharad Pawar-led NCP. As Thackeray is unable to campaign extensively due to security concerns and old age Sena is finding it difficult to convince its supporters that they deserve one more chance to rule the state. Second- line leadership of the Sena has failed to impress the people.

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