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Shiv Sena sends a firm message to ally BJP through its Parliament flip-flop

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Political analysts say Sena wants the BJP to understand that while it is ideologically aligned with the NDA, it opposes Modi govt’s policies.

New Delhi: The Shiv Sena, which shares a blow hot and blow cold relationship with its ally BJP, voted for the NDA candidate during the Rajya Sabha deputy chairman’s election Thursday.

NDA candidate Harivansh Narayan Singh emerged the winner with 125 votes. The Shiv Sena’s decision, however, raised a few eyebrows as its support to the NDA came barely 20 days after the party refused to back the BJP over a motion of no-confidence and abstained from voting.

Shiv Sena leaders and political analysts said the two different voting trends were meant to send distinct messages — that the Shiv Sena is ideologically aligned with the NDA, but is a stringent critic of the policies of the Narendra Modi-led government.

‘No-confidence vote was against government’

“The Shiv Sena has always severely criticised the Modi government’s administration. Our party chief Uddhav Thackeray has also taken staunch stands against some of the government’s moves such as demonetisation,” said a senior Sena MP who did not wish to be named.

“The no-confidence vote last month was meant as a direct attack on the Modi government’s administration and it would have looked very bad on the Shiv Sena if our MPs would have supported the government after being one of its strongest detractors,” the MP, who is a Mumbai-based Shiv Sena leader, added.

Also read: Shiv Sena received highest donation among regional parties in FY17, says ADR report

According to the Sena leader, his party’s decision to abstain from voting during the no-confidence motion was more a message of being critical of the government than a message of backing the opposition.

On the other hand, not backing the BJP-led NDA in the Rajya Sabha deputy chairman’s election was a question of aligning with the NDA or with the opposition, the leader said.

BJP consulted allies, took them along in RS poll

Shiv Sena leaders also said that the BJP was more sensitive and accommodating with its allies in case of the Rajya Sabha deputy chairman’s poll. BJP president Amit Shah’s call to Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray seeking his party’s support for the NDA candidate also made a difference.

In addition, Harivansh Narayan Singh is a JD(U) MP from Bihar and was backed by the BJP-led coalition at a time when the party has been battling flak from many of its allies, most vociferously from the Sena, for allegedly taking its partners for granted.

“The BJP took its allies into confidence and consulted them on the NDA candidate,” said Vinayak Raut, a Shiv Sena Lok Sabha MP.

“Amit Shah ji called Uddhav saheb to seek his support. Things have been done differently by taking allies along,” he added.

Also read: In Maratha reservations battle, the struggles of a community to define its caste status

The Sena has consistently played the role of an opposition party from the treasury benches despite being an NDA constituent and a part of the BJP-led Maharashtra government. Relations between the two parties have been increasingly choppy since the 2014 Maharashtra assembly polls when the allies ruptured their 25-year-old partnership due to disagreements over seat sharing and contested independently.

Later, they came together in a post-poll alliance, but the numbers forced a role reversal — big brother Shiv Sena was reduced to the junior partner.

Mixed signals to keep options open, analysts say

The Shiv Sena, which has on a number of occasions accused the BJP of being on an agenda to demolish regional parties, has resolved to contest 2019 elections on its own strength.

The BJP, meanwhile, has been making repeated overtures to get the party on board for an alliance. In June, Shah visited Thackeray’s residence in Mumbai and had a one-on-one meeting with the Sena chief. The meeting was seen as the first concrete dialogue between the party chiefs regarding the 2019 polls.

Political commentator Surendra Jondhale said, voting for the NDA candidate was a display of Shiv Sena’s soft politics. 

“The situation could have been different if the candidate was a BJP member and not from the JD(U). Like Shiv Sena, JD(U) has also been a warring ally of the BJP and is in coalition with the BJP in Bihar,” he said.

According to Jondhale, supporting a JD(U) candidate is a strategic move of the Shiv Sena to show political solidarity with Nitish Kumar.

“There was no political harm. It assured the BJP that we are with you during crucial events, but as a government we don’t trust you,” Jondhale said.

Political analyst Prakash Bal said the Shiv Sena’s flip-flop is largely to keep its options open by sending mixed signals.

“Uddhav Thackeray’s political calculations for 2019 are still underway and he is trying to balance various factors. The flip-flops in Shiv Sena’s approach will continue until the party makes a clear decision on 2019 polls,” Bal said.

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