The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sena keeps Mumbai for son
- Uncle shows Raj his place

Mumbai, Feb. 2: Uddhav Thackeray has good reason to send family friend Sharad Pawar a thank-you note for the triumph in the make-or-break Maharashtra civic polls today.

A seemingly down-and-out Shiv Sena-BJP stunned a confident Congress, reversing a losing streak in Assembly bypolls and winning control of the country’s richest civic body, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, the third time running.

Best of all for Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s son, the results torpedoed cousin Raj Thackeray’s efforts to project his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena as the “real” Shiv Sena and himself as the “true” legatee of his uncle’s charisma and hardline politics.

When he was in the Sena, the flamboyant Raj had often overshadowed his “uncharismatic” cousin. But a year after he walked out of the party feeling sidelined by Uddhav, he had only seven of the BMC’s 227 seats to show and 37 overall across the 10 municipalities that went to the polls.

The Sena-BJP led with 109 (Sena 83, BJP 26) and needed only five of the eight Independents’ support to make the majority mark of 114 in a council of 227 seats. The Congress trailed at 68 and its ally, Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party, had 15.

“The Balasaheb’s blessings, the work of the Sena cadre and people’s faith in us brought the victory,” Uddhav said in a tribute to his 80-year-old father.

But like those he defeated today, Uddhav would know that the state’s ruling allies had almost handed him the win by bickering over seats and then deciding to fight solo to spite each other.

It was Pawar’s stubbornness over two seats in Mumbai, where his party was weak, that split the alliance, local Congress leaders said.

“There is a clear division of the secular vote. The Congress has come second; we would have won had the NCP been with us,” said Nirmala Samant Prabhavalkar.

But party sources in Delhi said the Congress, too, had been happy to go it alone to “teach the NCP a lesson”.

The Congress believed the Sena was in a shambles after the Uddhav-Raj clash and the BJP in a limbo after Pramod Mahajan’s death. So, all that the Congress needed to do was to fill the vacant space before the NCP moved in.

The “secular” partners could now come closer to save the state government. Chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh has admitted that not having an alliance was a “mistake”.

Pawar wasn’t too worried with the Mumbai mauling: he has held on to his stronghold of Pimpri-Chinchwad (60 seats out of 105) and done well in Pune, winning 42 of the 144 seats, ahead of the Congress (35) and just behind the BJP (45). The Congress’s lone solace came in its base of Solapur.

Raj put a brave face on the defeat: “The Sena won thanks to Balasaheb’s charisma. It’s clear my party has reached out to people, though this may not have translated into seats. I wanted to find out how many votes we can win on our own. We have succeeded in attracting the first-time voters.”

Results of six seats in Mumbai are to be declared. The “third front”, Samajwadi Party-Republican Party of India, bagged 11 seats while Mayavati’s BSP debuted with one and Arun Gawli’s Akhil Bhartiya Sena won two.

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