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Shiv Sena says to contest West Bengal assembly elections
Mumbai, January 18, 2021
Hoping to extend its "territory" beyond Maharashtra, the ruling Shiv Sena has announced that it will sound the poll bugle soon in the coming West Bengal Assembly elections, due in another three-four months.
The proclamation by party's chief spokesperson and MP Sanjay Raut was on expected lines and it will be their third foray into the West Bengal polls after 2016 (Assembly) and 2019 (General) when it notched nil in terms of seats.
Previously, the Sena has contested different elections in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat and Jammu and Kashmir in its ambition to command influence nationally.
Late on Sunday, Raut said: "After discussions with party chief Uddhav Thackeray, Shiv Sena has decided to contest the WB assembly elections. We are reaching Kolkata soon,!!" and greeted 'Jai Hind' and in Bengali 'Joi Bangla'.
Raut's timing is significant -- just a week before January 23 -- the 124th birth anniversary of Bengal's great son Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and 95th birth anniversary of Shiv Sena founder, the late Balasaheb Thackeray.
However, it is not clear yet whether the Sena will hitch onto one of the major political alignments being cobbled in West Bengal or prefer "ekla cholo re" (go solo).
Current indications suggest it may attempt to spite its former ally Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by gnawing away at its crucial Hindutva votebanks.
Sena sources claim that the BJP has been making attempts to destabilize and dethrone constitutionally-elected governments in all opposition-ruled states, including Maharashtra and West Bengal, which goes contrary to the principles of the federal structure.
In November 2019, Thackeray took over as Maharashtra Chief Minister at the heead of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) comprising Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and Congress -- a development from which the stunned BJP has yet to recover.
The BJP has launched a mission to unseat the ruling Trinamool Congress's Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who is virtually cornered akin to a Royal Bengal Tigress ahead of the poll battle.
Banerjee is expected to fight tooth-and-nail on various fronts -- the BJP on the one hand and the Left Front-Congress combine on the other, punctuated by suspicious party-poopers like Asaduddin Owaisi's All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), and local forces on the West Bengal pollscape.
Incidentally, ruling ally Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) President Sharad Pawar has already said he would visit Kolkata soon to extend support to Banerjee's TMC -- as part of plans to build up a 'grand alliance' of national and state opposition parties before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Congress sources also do not rule out the possibility of a repeat of Maharashtra's MVA experiment in West Bengal if the state throws up a fractured mandate in the polls.
"The unthinkable happened in Maharashtra and it is working smoothly. Anything is possible... even in WB... MVA is a national example to make states strong," said a senior state leader guardedly, on the odds with three arch-rivals in West Bengal -- Congress, Left Front and Trinamool -- hugging each other to keep the BJP at bay.
Not leaving any stone unturned, the BJP is in hyper-aggressive mode to capture and tame West Bengal -- which has been a Communist fortress for nearly three decades before Banerjee conquered it 10 years ago.
Although Banerjee and Thackeray are understood to enjoy cordial relations, Pawar's entry into the poll-ring could change the permutations-combinations there, given his close rapport with top leaders across the political spectrum.
Thackeray and Banerjee met, grinned -- and probably jelled -- in Mumbai in November 2017 when the latter was here to invite top industrialists to join the West Bengal Global Investment Summit-2018, held in Kolkata.
While Sena remains tight-lipped for now on the number of seats it plans to contest, it is likely to throw its hat in the ring in around 60-odd constituencies in the 294-member West Bengal Assembly polls.