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Cousins keep BJP on toes

New Delhi, Nov. 17: The BJP is looking for signs that tragedy will bring his son and heir apparent Uddhav, and nephew Raj, together.

“It is, ironically, our only lifeline to regaining power in Maharashtra,” a BJP source said.

The BJP-Shiv Sena alliance was voted out in 1999 and never returned to power. Sources in both parties blame Raj’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and allege he “played” into the hands of the Congress-NCP alliance. Their view is that Raj allowed himself to be “exploited” by the ruling combine to divide Opposition votes.

Although Raj has been a fixture at the Thackerays’ Mumbai home Matoshree ever since Balasaheb’s health worsened, BJP sources aren’t sure if the crisis is enough to spur a patch-up. For the moment, the BJP decided not to play peacemaker in what a source described as a paarivarik maamla (family matter).

“There is nothing political about it because Uddhav and Raj are wedded to Balasaheb’s political ideology. They share the same political space. It’s a clash of egos, dating back to the time when Uddhav forced his cousin’s exit from the Sena. Raj wasn’t keen to leave but had no choice. He left and, like his fighter uncle, proved his mettle,” a BJP source said.

In the 2009 state elections, the BJP believed Raj had damaged its coalition with the Sena in at least 13 of the 70 seats in which they were “strong”.

As Thackeray battled for his life in the past week, Sena and MNS legislators spoke of how Uddhav and Raj should stop “tormenting” the patriarch and make up. “Otherwise they say voters will not forgive them,” a BJP source said, adding Raj was under greater pressure than ever before to reach out to his cousin.

The BJP’s worry is that when Thackeray is no longer around, Sena cadres may migrate to the MNS or the NCP.

The same concern stalks the Sena, too. This forenoon, the Uddhav camp sought to keep the flock together by convening a meeting of 76 Shiv Sena councillors. “We were asked to come at 11am. But Uddhav did not turn up to address us. Instead mayor Sunil Prabhu came and spoke to us around noon. He told us we should get back to work,” said a councillor who attended the meeting.

The Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna had also been sending reassuring messages to the Sainiks — seen as an attempt to keep the morale from sagging.

A Sena leader said: “People are worried about the party’s future as well as their personal political future. With many Shiv Sena leaders and cadres still holding a soft spot in their hearts for Raj Thackeray, there is a genuine fear among the party leadership that their flock may not stay together after Balasaheb’s demise.”

If the Sena loses out, the BJP fears it will disintegrate in Maharashtra because after Pramod Mahajan, it has no strong organisational hand to fix party affairs.

This is why brushing aside personal animosities, BJP president Nitin Gadkari — also from Maharashtra — tasked Mahajan’s brother-in-law Gopinath Munde to micro-manage the party and ensure the coalition with Sena is strengthened.

The sources said Munde had also been mandated to explore the prospect of including Raj in the coalition “at an appropriate time”.