Family feuds

Published : Feb 16, 2002 00:00 IST

The Shiv Sena is looking for new faces. I told the older ones (corporators) that you have eaten enough from the coffers of the (Birhanmumbai Municipal) Corporation. Now, let the others get a chance. The Municipal Corporation has become a milch cow for all.

- Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, at a rally on January 19 to launch the Shiv Sena-BJP campaign for municipal elections.

REVOLTS in the Shiv Sena by disgruntled old faces in the run-up to the municipal elections in Mumbai point to cracks within the party's inner circle. In what was once a "disciplined" political organisation, where no one dared question the authority of Bal Thackeray, 15 local leaders have rebelled. Also, three State leaders - Suresh Jain, Gurunath Desai and Shantaram Nandgaonkar - quit the party after resigning their membership of the Assembly or the Council.

Many people believe that Thackeray's nephew Raj Thackeray orchestrated the revolt after his rivalry with Thackeray's son Uddhav touched a new low in the last few weeks. In a newspaper interview, Raj spoke about tensions with his older cousin and admitted to being upset with the manner in which he was being sidelined. Several party members considered close to him were denied the ticket for the elections by Uddhav, who drew up the list in consultation with his father.

Although Raj was quickly summoned by the boss and given a dressing down, many see in the revolt the signs of a split in the party. It will take more than a conciliatory meeting to salve Raj's wounds. "I had this gnawing feeling for the last three to four years that I was not part of the decision-making process in the party. I am being pushed to the sidelines," he said in a newspaper interview. He is not the only one feeling left out.

The ageing autocrat has snubbed several other top leaders, including former Chief Ministers Manohar Joshi and Narayan Rane, even pulling them up in the columns of the party newspaper Saamna for failing to perform. Each of the eight senior leaders in the party had been assigned certain cities to nurture for the elections. He wrote: "Find out if these leaders ever visited the areas assigned to them. Do they want to sit smugly in Mumbai and run the party? Why should they now complain that they have not been taken into confidence while finalising the Sena's list of nominees?"

Meanwhile, some of those who were denied the ticket filed their nominations as independent candidates and were promptly expelled from the party. Manik Koli, the corporator from Dahisar, is undeterred by her expulsion and is contesting as an independent against the new Shiv Sena face. "This is an injustice against me. Balasaheb has always taught us to fight injustice. Why should we stop now? Once the election is over, or whenever they need me, they will take me back," she said. Koli still professes her loyalty to Bal Thackeray. "I met Balasaheb the day before the list of candidates was announced. He told Uddhav that I should be given the ticket. Yet, the next day my name was not on the list. The Vibhag Pramukhs (local leaders) have become agents and are collecting huge amounts," she alleged.

The Shiv Sena denied the ticket to 59 of its 103 corporators. The decision to field new candidates may stem partly from Uddhav's need to assert himself, but many people also allege quid pro quo deals in allotting the ticket. Some sitting corporators in Mumbai and Thane, the party's strongholds, have accused the party of denying them the ticket simply because they did not pay up.

The Shiv Sena first came to power in the country's largest Municipal Corporation, which has a budget of around Rs.5,000 crores, in 1985. The Tinaikar Committee that was set up to look into the reasons for the Corporation's deficit of Rs.215.95 crores, found irregularities in several departments, especially those where contracts involving large sums were granted. Moreover, in recent times the Shiv Sena chief has publicly scolded the party's corporators for their lavish lifestyles in recent years and has promised measures to curb excesses.

Obviously, there is a lot at stake, financially and politically. With the boss increasingly withdrawing from public life, rivalry between the two young leaders is likely to grow, although Raj denies any interest in becoming party chief. He seems to be a rebel without a cause.

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