Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray meets Prashant Kishor even as party keeps all options open, particularly with regard to its alliance with the BJP.
Mumbai: The Shiv Sena has begun its Lok Sabha poll preparations, amid uncertainty over an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and is likely to take the help of poll strategist Prashant Kishor.
Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray met Kishor Tuesday at his suburban Mumbai residence, Matoshree, along with his son Aaditya Thackeray, who tweeted a photo of the meeting, describing the poll strategist as a “special visitor”.
— Aaditya Thackeray (@AUThackeray) February 5, 2019
Sources said Thackeray also held a meeting of all MPs and state ministers at his residence where there were introductory discussions with Kishor.
“We had an introductory meeting with Prashant Kishor and prima facie, the party is likely to work with him,” an MP who attended the meeting said. “He will now come up with a detailed presentation over the next few days.”
Another MP, who attended the meeting but did not wish to be named, said, “It was an elementary meeting but it seems like Kishor is likely to play a strategic role for the Shiv Sena this election.
“These days, there is a trend of getting professional help to strategise for elections and manage public relations,” the Sena leader added. “Prashant Kishor has helped Modi become PM and (Nitish) Kumar and Amarinder Singh become chief ministers. If anyone can help us, he is the person.”
Kishor, who has his own political advocacy platform, is credited with being instrumental in the election campaign of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and crafting his victory in 2014. Kishor joined politics last year as the vice-president of the Janata Dal (United), becoming the number two of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in the party.
Poll preparations on, but no clarity on the alliance with BJP yet
The Sena has begun poll preparations even as there is no clarity on the party’s ties with the BJP.
Kishor, during his meeting, is said to have expressed a view that if Shiv Sena is offered a 50 per cent share in seats for the Lok Sabha polls, it should consider an alliance with the BJP.
Following the meeting, Kishor also tweeted, saying, that as part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), his party was looking to join forces with the Shiv Sena.
Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut, however, categorically denied suggestions that Kishor was acting as a mediator between Sena and the BJP in their alliance talks.
“We don’t need a mediator. Shiv Sena chief Uddhavsaheb Thackeray can do it on his own…there are no talks,” Raut said. “The alliance talks are only going on in the media.”
Raut also termed Kishor’s visit a “courtesy call”.
“Uddhav Thackeray decides Shiv Sena’s strategy. Before this, Balasaheb uses to decide Shiv Sena’s strategy. Prashant Kishor’s visit was a courtesy call,” Raut said. “He is vice-president of JD(U), which is also constituent of the National Democratic Alliance. So, he came to meet in that capacity.”
Sena MPs who attended Tuesday’s meeting said that while there was no particular discussion on the alliance, Thackeray directed them to start preparations in their constituencies irrespective of whether or not an alliance takes shape.
“He made it clear to all that the BJP has not put any formal concrete proposal regarding the alliance on the table for the Shiv Sena to consider,” a Sena MP said. “He asked everyone whether we will fight with full strength if the alliance takes shape and also if it doesn’t take shape. The unanimous answer was yes to both.”
Sena’s internal poll
For the past week, Thackeray has busied himself in taking stock of exactly where the party stands in different parts of Maharashtra.
He started with a meeting of all party MPs last Monday. Through the rest of the week, he went on to have region-wise meetings covering Western Maharashtra, Marathwada, Konkan, North Maharashtra and Vidarbha meeting with the chief of every district present.
A party functionary who did not wish to be named said, “Uddhavsaheb was taking stock of what the situation is, how many seats the party can win on its own and what the opinions of MPs and MLAs on the ground are regarding the alliance.”
Party leaders who attended the meeting said Thackeray mostly emphasised on ensuring that a committed ground-level cadre is in place in every district, right down to the booth-level agents.
The Sena, the BJP’s oldest ally and now one of its bitterest critics, had in January last year passed a resolution to contest all elections on its own. With the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) having patched up and discussing seat-sharing in Maharashtra, the BJP has been keen on an alliance.
Sena sources say that the party will consider a tie-up if seat-sharing talks are worked out for the Lok Sabha and Maharashtra assembly polls together, and the Shiv Sena gets an upper hand in the latter. Last week, Sena MP Raut also hinted the party’s willingness for talks if it gets the bigger share of the pie in Maharashtra and remains the older brother here.