Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray is in a tight spot. He wants the Shiv Sena to fly solo, but knows that only the BJP can help keep his flock together. He also knows that only an alliance with the BJP can take the Shiv Sena closer to the seat of power in Maharashtra.
Uddhav Thackeray’s position is not very different from what poet Roy Croft once wrote about – ‘I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you’.
The Sena chief probably feels the same love for the BJP. But the all-important question in Uddhav’s mind is if the BJP feels the same way too.
This is not a rhetorical question because the answer will determine the fate of the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance in Maharashtra in the assembly polls next month.
Ball is in Uddhav’s court
Before the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, the Shiv Sena and the BJP had arrived at a seat-sharing formula. The BJP had then promised equal seats to Uddhav’s party in the Maharashtra assembly election.
However, after the BJP’s thumping majority in the Lok Sabha elections and the ongoing near-domination of a single-party in national politics, the BJP has refused to honour that agreement, which was ratified by BJP president Amit Shah, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray.
The BJP has now cleverly placed the ball in Uddhav’s court and boxed him into a corner. It is the Shiv Sena chief who has to decide if he wants to settle for a compromise and save the alliance or break away and save his pride.
It will be tough for BJP too
In a bid to provide an alternative to the Congress, the BJP had entered into an alliance in 1989 with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray and BJP leader Pramod Mahajan were the architects of the alliance, which lasted for 25 years. The split happened just before the 2014 Maharashtra assembly election.
As the Narendra Modi era emerged, a strong and vibrant BJP dumped the Shiv Sena and went solo in the polls. But the party failed to cross the magic figure.
Then rose the new need for the Shiv Sena, and so began a forced relationship, post-separation. However, the BJP’s dominance over the Shiv Sena has not gone down well with Uddhav who feels stifled.
Leaders of both the BJP and the Shiv Sena know that regional compulsions force them to stay together in an alliance, irrespective of their party sentiments.
Both parties contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in an alliance, and defeated the Congress-NCP alliance. While the BJP got nearly 27 per cent of the votes, the Shiv Sena secured almost 21 per cent. However, the Maharashtra assembly election that year saw all the major political players go it alone. Once again, the BJP led the pack with over 27 per cent vote share, followed by the Shiv Sena (more than 19 per cent), the Congress (nearly 18 per cent) and the NCP (17.3 per cent approx.).
With the Congress and the NCP announcing a seat-sharing pact for the 2019 Maharashtra polls, the Shiv Sena and the BJP cannot afford another separation. A split in votes will benefit the Congress and the NCP who are fighting for survival in Maharashtra. Despite a strong Modi factor nationally, it will not be easy for the BJP to go it alone in Maharashtra and win majority.
The ongoing agrarian crisis, the drought, the mismanagement during floods in western Maharashtra, the unrest among the middle class due to economic slowdown and increasing unemployment, and the widening social divide will make the Maharashtra election a tough one for the BJP sans the Shiv Sena.
Who will blink first?
After the Lok Sabha elections, there has been an exodus from the Congress and the NCP, with political leaders queuing up to join the BJP.
Although every new joinee seems to make the BJP look like a winner, political analysts hold a contrary view. They believe that this can also backfire for the BJP.
Many Congress and NCP stalwarts who have joined the BJP on the eve of the elections come with their own baggage. They have enjoyed power as leaders of the Congress and the NCP, and a strong anti-incumbency sentiment against them gave the BJP an advantage in their constituencies. But with the inclusion of several tainted leaders from other parties for petty benefits, the BJP’s core voters in Maharashtra are unhappy.
Many of these leaders, including Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil, Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, Rana Jagjitsinh Patil, Udayanraje Bhosale, who have recently joined or are likely to join the BJP belong to the Maratha community. In the wake of the growing unrest in the Maratha community due to the agrarian crisis and the reservation protests (Fadnavis government has announced quota for them), the BJP has suffered a setback. The BJP may think that the entry of these leaders can help it win back the Maratha support, but the plan may not work out on the ground.
Considering these equations, Uddhav is hopeful that the BJP will stand by its commitment prior to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Now, the question is who will blink first – the Shiv Sena or the BJP.
The author is a political commentator. He is a columnist with various Marathi newspapers. Views are personal.
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