Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shelar is gearing up for the long overdue Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections, which are expected to be held this year. He has showcased the election as a fight between the tripartite Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) and the ruling dispensation led by Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde’s Shiv Sena and the BJP. The MLA from Vandre (Bandra) West is considered a trusted aide of Union Home Minister Amit Shah and expected to secure a State Cabinet berth if he ensures that the BJP wins the BMC polls. He spoke about the party’s preparations ahead of the crucial local body polls and next year’s Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. Excerpts:
After the BJP’s drubbing in Karnataka, what changes do you see in Maharashtra politics in the run-up to the 2024 elections?
The BJP is in introspection mode after the Karnataka results. Two key issues that emerged were the politics of freebies and minority appeasement. What the Aam Aadmi Party started, the Congress has taken to another level. The Congress gave freebies in the form of the five guarantees and the BJP was the only party that challenged this. The Congress’s campaign was also centred on securing Muslim votes. Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Uddhav Thackeray is now becoming a champion of this game. Keeping this in mind, we are preparing for the 2024 Assembly election. We will showcase our achievements and give voters a better manifesto. We will strengthen the party organisation from the grassroots to the State level. I can’t comment on the party’s strategy for the Lok Sabha election as I am not directly involved in its planning.
What are the challenges facing the BJP ahead of the BMC polls?
The three parties in the MVA — the Shiv Sena (UBT), Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) — are contesting together as they know that individually they cannot challenge the BJP. Mr. Thackeray’s organisational capabilities, support among people and the number of party workers are going down by the day. Earlier, they raised the slogan ‘Mumbai Konachi? [Mumbai belongs to whom?]’. Now, they are saying, ‘Mumbai Amcha Tiganchi [Mumbai belongs to the three of us]’. That is a sign of weakness. We are ready to take them head-on.
Will the Shinde-led Sena continue to lead the ruling alliance in all upcoming polls?
Mr. Shinde is our Chief Minister and we will contest and win elections under his leadership. This has been stated repeatedly by [Deputy Chief Minister and senior BJP leader] Devendra Fadnavis.
Will it remain the real Shiv Sena?
I think the Election Commission of India has established this and the Supreme Court has also accepted it.
Are you confident about Mr. Shinde holding on to the Sena base?
Their road map is right. It will slowly gain momentum and be in full gear.
Do you think the civic polls will be a litmus test for the alliance ahead of the 2024 polls?
The BMC elections are important and we have done our homework. We will improve our performance in the coming days.
Is the Sena fine with BJP president J.P. Nadda’s remark that the Mumbai Mayor will be from the BJP?
Mr. Fadnavis and Mr. Nadda have clearly said the polls will be contested in alliance with the Sena and Ramdas Athawale’s Republican Party of India (A). The Mayor will be from the BJP.
Is the BJP thinking of allying with other parties?
It can happen at the local level. There are some parties that are in touch with us.
Is it true that the BJP was in talks with NCP leader Ajit Pawar?
Not that I am aware of. I don’t know why the media is running this news. Maybe there are issues in (NCP chief Sharad) Pawar saheb’s party or family. As far as the BJP is concerned, I am part of the party’s core committee. There have been no such talks.
If Mr. Ajit Pawar wants to join your alliance, will he be welcomed?
That is a hypothetical question. I have not seen Mr. Ajit Pawar making any statement in this regard.
Do you think Mr. Ajit Pawar is on the defensive while taking on the ruling alliance, especially Mr. Fadnavis?
You have to pose this question to him. I feel he is the only Opposition leader who speaks in the Assembly.