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Sena, BJP in a scrap
BJP threatens to break ties
Shiv Kumar
Tribune News Service

Mumbai, June 26
The Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party are locked in a bitter battle over the former's decision to support Congress candidate Pratibha Patil in the forthcoming presidential election.

Hours after Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray announced the party's decision last evening, BJP leaders are threatening to break ties with its oldest ally. "Of what use is this tie-up with the Shiv Sena?" senior BJP leader of Maharashtra Nitin Gadkari asked. “They always take us for granted when we need them, but we have always made allowances for the Sena,” Gadkari added.

An old opponent of the Sena-BJP tie-up, Gadkari has had to stay silent as the late Pramod Mahajan and Gopinath Munde kept the relationship with the mercurial Bal Thackeray going. Now, even Munde is on the backfoot.

"The Shiv Sena is into a deal with the Congress. In exchange for its support for Patil, the Congress has assured that rebel Sena leader Narayan Rane would not be appointed chief minister of Maharasthra," Munde alleged. Not known to speak against the Thackerays, Munde sounded angry and shrill and warned that the two parties may not stay together for long. Munde went on to point out that the Sena had a number of non-Maharashtrian MPs who have been sent to the Rajya Sabha.

Not to stay quiet, the Thackerays have decided to hit hard at the BJP.

“We are not bothered about the BJP’s opinion, but the people’s opinion,” Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray said at a press conference this afternoon.

“This is a one-off support to the Congress keeping in mind public sentiments. The BJP need not worry about breaking ties with us,” Uddhav added.

He added that the Sena had backed President Kalam as BJP’s candidate last time.

Uddhav also retaliated at the BJP’s allegation that the Sena is diluting its Hindutva stand. “Nobody can teach us Hindutva, but we also have to support the sons of the soil,” Uddhav said.

He further added that the Sena’s support to Patil was akin to the whole of Bengal supporting Saurav Ganguly when he was dropped from the cricket team.

Uddhav further added that he had a lot to say about Munde and Gadkari, but has chosen to remain silent in order to keep the relationship going.

However, Uddhav’s old foe Narayan Rane, now in the Congress and unwittingly caught in the crossfire was quick to latch on to the quarrel. He called Uddhav’s pro-Marathi stand a fake one since the party did not back Congress leader Sushil Kumar Shinde, a Maharashtrian, for the post of vice-president in the last election.

“Where was their Marathi pride then?” Rane asked.

Observers, however, say that for all its talk the BJP cannot afford to split from the Shiv Sena. Especially after its support to Pratibha Patil, the Sena is in a stronger position than the BJP in Maharashtra’s hinterland and could easily consolidate its position by tying up with the NCP.

However, a section of BJP hardliners like Gadkari are keen on splitting with the Sena so that the national party can build its base in Sena strongholds.

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