Will Athawale gain from Shiv Sena-Somaiya tussle?
New Delhi, March 18: Despite an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls in Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena seems to be not in a mood to forgive BJP MP Kirit Somaiya, say sources.
Sensing trouble among the alliance partners, Union minister and Republican Party of India (A) Chief Ramdas Athawale has started hard lobbying for the Mumbai North East Lok Sabha seat, currently being represented by Somaiya.
It is notable that the Shiv Sena leadership has demanded the BJP not to renominate Somaiya, or else Sena workers will not campaign for him.
Sources say Somaiya issue figured during the recently held meeting between Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray to finalise the poll strategy.
"Thackeray told Fadnavis in plain words that if the BJP fields Somaiya from Mumbai North East then it should not expect any kind of support from Sena workers," said sources, adding that several Sena leaders from Mumbai have told Thackeray that they will not support Somaiya's candidature from the Mumbai North East constituency, and will work to ensure his defeat.
"Somaiya had won the Mumbai North East seat in the 2014 parliamentary elections because the Shiv Sena workers were instrumental in converting the votes of a large Marathi population of the constituency in his favour," say Shiv Sena sources.
Somaiya is a firebrand BJP leader who has been the biggest critic of the Shiv Sena during the last five years.
Before the 2017 civic elections, Somaiya was a major critic of the Sena, attacking the party over issues of corruption in the Sena-led Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). The 64-year-old MP has even attacked Uddhav Thackeray, which has irked Sena leaders and workers.
Without naming Thackeray, Somaiya had said that the BMC was in the grip of a powerful mafia run by a 'saheb' in Bandra.
Matoshree, the Thackeray family residence, is in Mumbai's suburb of Bandra. He also dared the Sena chief to disclose his assets publicly.
Somaiya is a kind of investigator BJP MP in Maharashtra. His team uses the Right to Information Act to collect information to target political opponents.
It is believed that Somaiya's tirade against the Shiv Sena had the backing of the BJP leadership. It is notable that the BJP and the Shiv Sena had fought the 2014 Maharashtra polls separately; they joined hands to form the coalition government in the state.
Despite being coalition partners in the government, both the parties fought the 2017 Mumbai civic body polls as rivals. During this time, Somaiya became one of the foremost critics of the Shiv Sena from the BJP, attacking the party over issues such as potholed roads of the Sena-led civic body to corruption in contracts.
Sena workers allegedly attacked Somaiya during Dussehra celebrations. The BJP MP wrote to the city police commissioner alleging that Sena workers wanted to kill him.
The amount of rivalry between the two sides has put the BJP leadership in a catch-22 situation.
"The BJP wants to repeat Somaiya but also fears that the Sena workers will not leave any stone unturned to defeat Somaiya. The 2019 elections are very crucial and every seat means a lot for the BJP," sources told One India.
Though the BJP is yet to announce its candidates for Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra, Somaiya has already started campaigning by saying that he is confident that the BJP would again give him the ticket.
"Actually, Somaiya is sending signals to the BJP that it should not dump him due to the pressure of the Shiv Sena. And, if it does then a message should go that he paid the price of following the directives of BJP leadership," said sources.
Anticipating no end to this tussle, Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Ramdas Athawale has now fixed eyes on Somaiya 's constituency.
Earlier, Athawale had demanded the South Central constituency, which is in the Sena's quota. Uddhav Thackeray has already announced sitting MP Rahul Shewale's candidature from there.
On March 14, Athawale talked with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah.
Athawale is believed to have requested both the leaders to give Mumbai North East seat to his party so that it is not lost due to the Shiv Sena and Somaiya tussle.
It will be interesting to watch whether Athawale will be benefitted from Shiv Sena and Somaiya tussle or not.