BJP unites Raj, Uddhav Thackeray for by-election

Mumbai, July 22: The Thackerays, Uddhav and Raj, may find themselves at cross-purposes with each other in public again, but the Bharatiya Janata Party has brought them together in at least one way today.

It has roped in their respective parties, the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, to back its candidate in the Rajya Sabha by-election today, in a bid to give the Congress a tough competition.

On Thursday, as Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan was busy wooing 12 Independent MLAs to back the Congress contender Hussain Dalwai, the BJP camp was upbeat for having brought the warring cousins together for the by-poll, necessitated due to Prithviraj Chavan’s resignation from the Upper House in April, after he was made the state’s CM.

Senior BJP MLA Girish Bapat, who is spearheading the campaign for party nominee Bal Mane, said, “Both the Shiv Sena and the MNS have promised their support for Mane.”

As per the current strength, BJP has 46 MLAs, Sena 45 and MNS 12. “If we manage to garner the backing of two Independents, our strength will cross 103 in the Assembly,” claimed Bapat. The Assembly forms the electoral college for the by-poll.

According to party sources, BJP chief Nitin Gadkari spoke to both Uddhav and Raj separately to enlist their support for Mane.

And after a brief meeting yesterday with Mane at his Shivaji Park residence, Raj declared that his party has decided to support the BJP candidate.

“Both BJP President Nitin Gadkari and State Unit Chief Sudhir Mungantiwar called me to request the MNS’ support for Mane,” said Raj.

Mane, for his part, has been holding talks with fellow Opposition parties in order to get them to throw their weight behind him.

“Senior party leaders have asked me to meet every part in the Opposition. So I decided to meet Raj. He has assured me that his party will support me in the election.”

But wouldn’t the BJP’s alliance partner, Shiv Sena, mind him meeting their arch-rival MNS? “I met him as he is the president of the MNS, an Opposition party in the Assembly.

I will also be meeting senior leaders from other parties in the state,” is all Mane said. It appears the BJP is pulling no punches for this by-poll.

It hasn’t shown the slightest hesitation in meeting smaller parties, the Peasants and Workers Party (PWP) and other smaller groups in the Assembly.

Meanwhile, in a meeting of Congress MLAs yesterday, 12 Independent MLAs voiced their complaints against the government.

Their main grouse was that ministers ignore them when it comes to constituency-related works. “Ministers do not treat us with respect,” said an MLA.

According to party sources, CM Chavan has assured them of government support in sanctioning constituency projects.

Incidentally, Congress MLAs were dissuaded from speaking during the meeting as party bosses felt that they would raise their voice against the government, said a senior MLA.