The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Shiv Sena taps Bhim muscle

Mumbai, July 3: The tiger has smelt blood and is leaving nothing to chance.

In view of the widespread anti-incumbency factor and the massive list of corruption charges against the Democratic Front government, Shiv Sena leaders have drawn up a poll plan aimed at upsetting the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party combine’s apple cart.

The Sena has decided to cement its ties with the BJP during a crucial conclave at Uttan. It has also, in a radical turnaround, agreed to take Dalit parties along.

The organisation has set itself an ambitious target of 140 seats with the BJP and Dalit parties in tow. In the last polls, the Sena had won 71 seats in the 288-member house. Leaders said that going by the current mood against the Congress and the NCP, the aim was not unachievable.

At the end of the two-day conclave, which follows on the heels of the BJP’s chintan baithak, Sena sources said they were looking to form the next government in Maharashtra.

As part of the pre-poll agenda, the party is planning to “expose through an intensive campaign the failures of the Democratic Front government”. Sena leaders, however, said the two other aspects they would focus on would be better interaction with the BJP and the aggressive wooing of Dalits.

The Sena has also decided to leave its “exclusivity” behind, sacrificing it for a more broad-based, all-encompassing party. Ditching its policy of persecution — of south Indians in the 70s and north Indians lately through the Mee Mumbaikar (I am a Mumbaikar) campaign — the Sena has agreed to go in for an “adoption policy”.

“We have to focus on Shiv shakti and Bhim shakti (followers of Bhimrao Ambedkar) working in tandem,” Uddhav Thackeray, the party’s executive president, said.

“We will consider giving tickets to them (Dalits) in the Assembly elections next year as part of our party’s endeavour to unite Shiv shakti and Bhim shakti.”

Uddhav said the Sena’s conciliatory move towards Dalit parties has evoked a very encouraging response.

Leaders said they felt that if they could swing the 11.5 per cent Dalit electorate in their favour, they could tilt the balance for the party.

“The Dalit population is positively responding to the Sena’s appeal and even if the Republican Party leaders are unhappy with this move, they would still back the Sena in the coming elections,” Uddhav said.

He added that the party was on the verge of bringing in a “social renaissance” in the state.

Toeing a line favoured by some BJP leaders during the chintan baithak, Uddhav said if the Congress and the NCP were confident of themselves, they should agree to hold the Assembly polls, slated for February-March, along with the general elections next year. “Let us see if they have the courage to take up the challenge,” Uddhav said.

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