Raut arrest, mass exodus, scam taints: Uddhav bravado can't hide party's nervousness
Allegations of misuse of agencies or alleged partisan action of the Enforcement Directorate will continue but will the Shiv Sena find it so easy to brush off the taint of a scam this huge?
"Mujhe Sanjay Raut per abhiman hai (I am proud of Sanjay)," declared Uddhav Thackeray while addressing newspersons a day after the arrest of his right-hand man and spokesperson of the much truncated Shiv Sena. Regardless of the party chief's bravado before the cameras, the arrest of Raut has come as a triple whammy for the Shiv Sena in general and Uddhav Thackeray in particular.
The arrest came close on the heels of Eknath Shinde breaking away from Uddhav's camp with more than three-fourths of the Sena MLAs and forming government with BJP in Mumbai. This revolt against Thackeray's leadership was followed by organisational split down to the districts and taluka level. The exodus of workers towards the Shinde camp continues.
While both the camps have petitioned in the court as well as Election Commission for recognition as the original Shiv Sena, the battle of perception will be fought at the grass-roots. And the first big test is due around Deepawali when Mumbai and several major cities of Maharashtra will head for municipal corporation polls.
When his government fell more than a month ago, Uddhav adopted the strategy of projecting himself as a martyr and garner sympathy by accusing Shinde and his camp of betrayal. His strategy may or may not have endeared him to the cadres and the supporters of the Sena but he did face the consequences of the break-up among the members of the Parliament. It was the pressure from MPs that compelled him to support Draupadi Murmu in the Presidential elections or else the parliamentary party would have collapsed as well.
However, Uddhav Thackeray displayed a different attitude following the arrest of Raut. He seemed to indicate that he was bracing for confrontation and claimed that his colleague Raut was facing the ED only because he had been speaking against the Modi regime. Note the difference in reactions of Mamata Bannerjee and Uddhav Thackeray as both their confidantes got embroiled in corruption cases.
Allegations of misuse of agencies or alleged partisan action of the Enforcement Directorate will continue but will the Shiv Sena find it so easy to brush off the taint of a scam where a construction company enters into an agreement with the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) and the Patra Chawl to build flats for its tenants but then sells the space to private developers thus making huge sums of money while the hapless tenants waited endlessly for their new homes?
Media reports quoting ED sources say that a sum of more than 100 crore rupees was transferred as proceeds of the deals to Pravin Raut (arrested earlier) who in turn distributed it through a maze of companies to various beneficiaries including Varsha Raut, the wife of Sena leader Sanjay Raut. Latest reports claim that the sum could actually be much higher.
It is quite a task to go through the cobweb of companies, directorships and shareholdings but for the common voter there are no cobwebs. The long and short of the matter is political power was misused to dupe innocents of their homes by the unholy nexus of politician-corporate-govt and huge money was made in the process at the cost of hapless citizens.
This can seriously impact the Uddhav-led Sena in the upcoming municipal polls particularly in Mumbai though not limited to the metropolis. A serious corruption taint on one of his few remaining party faces is the last thing Uddhav Thackeray needs at this point of time.
But fighting the taint is not the only challenge. Like him or hate him, Sanjay Raut has been playing the role of Uddhav Thackeray's closest confidante for quite some time now. He is an aggressive media face of the Uddhav camp, doesn't think twice before going all out to slam the rivals, sometimes even crossing limits of decent phraseology.
The jury is still out whether Sanjay Raut is the ultimate Man Friday or whether he precipitated the crisis that led to the party's break-up. Either way, his arrest in the run up to the crucial BMC polls, often called the Shiv Sena's lifeline, has just added to Uddhav's woes. There is very little time for the former chief minister to find an editor for Saamna, a backroom negotiator with other parties, a 24-hour spokesman and a trusted aide, all in one guy.
The bravado he displayed in front of the cameras cannot hide how shaken Uddhav Thackeray is.
(Smita Mishra writes on politics and current affairs)
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