February 7, 2017 9:51:18 pm
Sending a strong signal to the BJP as ties between the two allies worsen, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray Tuesday said Hardik Patel, leader of the Patidar quota agitation in Gujarat and a vocal critic of Prime Minister Narandra Modi, will be the Sena’s leading face when it contests elections to the Gujarat Assembly.
Patel, on his part, refrained from campaigning for the Sena but he did say he was with the party since they shared the same principles.
Responding to the development, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said the ground had slipped from beneath Sena’s feet, adding that there was “no danger” to his government.
Earlier, Uddhav Thackeray, speaking to reporters after meeting Patel, said: “After a long time, we will be contesting elections outside Maharashtra. If the people of Gujarat want, we will contest elections in Gujarat as well. And Hardik Patel will be one of our leading faces in this fight.”
He said the Sena had to reconsider its relationship with the BJP after the two parties decided to go separate ways in elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. “We were with them during the Lok Sabha elections and they called off the alliance. Now we have decided to call off the alliance… if your heart is not into a relationship, then there is no point in continuing,” Thackeray said.
Twisting the knife in ally BJP, Sena fields Hardik in Gujarat: He will be our face Patel said he had come to meet Uddhav Thackeray because of the respect he had for Bal Thackeray. “I want to stand with people who stand true to their principles. I associate myself with people on the basis of their conviction, not for political issues,” he said.
He claimed he was “too young to support” anyone. “I am only 23 years old. Moreover, they do not need my support… they themselves are supporting people.” He said he was firmly opposed to the BJP.
“We are fighting against the BJP because the party has killed 16 of our people. We are fighting against those who are trying to finish us,” he said. “I want to stand with good people. We are fighting for a political change where a system is created to benefit people. We will stand with like-minded people wherever they need us,” he said. Meanwhile, the image of Thackeray embracing Patel was seen as Sena’s “loud and clear message” to the BJP — that the latter’s oldest and biggest ally is now willing to cross swords with Modi on uncharted turf too.
Before Thackeray announced Patel would be his party’s face for the upcoming Gujarat Assembly polls, signalling Sena’s foray into Modi’s home turf, there was a 40-minute closed-door meeting between the two leaders, which was centred around how Patel can help Thackeray’s party, which has virtually no presence in Gujarat, build its base in the state.
While Patel, just 23, cannot contest an election himself yet, the deal worked out between the sides was that he will aid the Sena in identifying potential candidates and even field his own supporters in some of these. Thackeray has also reportedly sought Patel’s help for setting up Sena shakhas across Gujarat, starting with Baroda, Ahmedabad and Surat. By joining hands with Thackeray, Patel, on the other hand, signalled that he was gearing up for a political challenge to Modi and the BJP in Gujarat. “I had come to seek Uddhav Thackeray’s blessings. I’ll stand with the Shiv Sena like a family,” he said.
With Patel emerging as a rallying point for Modi critics in Gujarat, the Shiv Sena chief is willing to shift from the party’s stated position against caste-based reservation. Shiv Sena founder the late Bal Thackeray had in 1990s strongly opposed implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations.
In Gujarat, Patel has taken on the BJP over the demand for reservation in education and jobs to the Patel (Patidar) community who are traditionally considered socially and politically ahead of other castes in Gujarat. He has been demanding that the Patels should be included in the list of Other Backward Classes and extended all reservation benefits.
Modi and Thackeray have shared an uneasy relationship ever since the two parties first parted ways in 2014 to contest the Maharashtra Assembly polls. While both later forged a post-poll combine, there has been no bonhomie between the duo. The Shiv Sena leader has sharpened his attacks on Modi post demonetisation. According to sources, Thackeray believes he can encash on the “latest unrest building up against Modi’s measure” for electoral dividends. In that sense, by joining hands with Hardik Patel, the Shiv Sena also seems to be trying to create a perception that there is an “anti-Modi build-up” among Gujaratis too.
The indication that Thackeray, who has already announced that he won’t have any more electoral alliances with the BJP or any other party, is even willing to pull out of the BJP-led government in Maharashtra and the Centre came when Thackeray remarked on Tuesday the “government (in Maharashtra) is on notice period as of now”. Fadnavis had earlier countered a similar barb from Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut Monday.
During the closed-door talks Tuesday, Thackeray and Patel also discussed Shiv Sena’s election campaign for the February 21 Mumbai civic polls. According to the sources, Patel has agreed to participate in a joint roadshow with Thackeray’s son and Yuva Sena leader Aaditya in Gujarati-dominated areas in Dahisar to Goregaon. The sources said the plan was to hold the rally on February 16 or 17. Campaigning for Mumbai polls ends on February 19.
In the run-up to the polls, the Shiv Sena has been reaching out to the Gujarati community, sections of which had in the past complained of being targeted by the party. Sena has inducted some Gujarati faces. With Hardik Patel joining hands, the party is hoping to mobilise some added support from the community.
The Shiv Sena’s game plan behind reaching out to Gujaratis is to make a dent in the BJP’s traditional voting constituents. “There is a sense of disenchantment among traditional BJP voters from the community post demonetisation. Uddhav Thackeray’s plan appears to mobilise their support,” said writer and political analyst Ramesh Oza. “While a majority of the Gujaratis will still go with the BJP, the Sena may be hoping to dent this segment for bettering its chances. Hardik Patel’s presence may galvanise the Patidar Samaj pulling some voters towards the party,” he said.
Patel was accompanied by members of the Patel Navnirman Sena, who have now agreed to campaign for Sena in the BMC polls. Patel community members reside in big numbers in pockets of Dahisar, Borivli, Malad (East), Goregaon, Ghatkopar, and Mulund. “In a municipal election, even 300 to 500 votes can swing an election. Thackeray would be hoping that Hardik Patel can swing some of the Patidar votes,” said Oza. He said Thackeray was making the right noises to woo the community, but said it might take time for the Gujaratis to embrace the party keeping behind years of hurt.
The Shiv Sena is hoping that Patel’s clout among Gujaratis with roots in Saurashtra and North Gujarat would sway some voters away from the BJP. Even though the BJP doubts the extent of his influence, Sena sources said the party had plans to open dialogue channels with other Modi critics in Gujarat, including Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mewani.
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