Mumbai: “There was never such a tug of war earlier,” says Shiv Sena MP Anandrao Adsul of his party’s alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). “The issues were simple. Negotiations were simple. There was understanding.”
Adsul, 71, is referring to the decade from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, when the alliance between the Shiv Sena and the BJP took shape, the lotus started blooming in Maharashtra, and the Sena’s arrow finally hit the mark. But a lot has changed over the years in the equation between the BJP and its oldest partner.
“Now, there are egos,” says Adsul.
Three decades since they first came together, the BJP and the Shiv Sena are set to reiterate their tie-up Monday after months of intense bickering and bitterness.
Reduced to being a junior partner in the alliance, the Shiv Sena had officially resolved last year to contest all future elections solo. Even so, negotiations had been underway with the BJP to hammer out a formula for this year’s Lok Sabha and assembly polls, on the condition that their original agreement for the Shiv Sena’s primacy in Maharashtra is honoured.
A formal announcement in this regard will be made Monday evening by BJP president Amit Shah and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, with the two parties said to have settled for a 50:50 seat-sharing formula for Maharashtra.
The birth of the saffron alliance
The Shiv Sena and the BJP were formed 14 years apart, in 1966 and 1980, respectively. They first came together in the 1984 Lok Sabha election, when they jointly contested on the BJP’s symbol because the Sena did not have its own.
The parties won none of the 50 constituencies Maharashtra had at the time, and the BJP contested the 1985 assembly election alone.
The alliance, as we know it, was formulated in 1989 — The two parties came together in Maharashtra with Hindutva as the fulcrum, contested the parliamentary polls, and met with resounding success.
In a first, a Shiv Sena member was elected to Parliament, while the BJP managed 10 MPs from Maharashtra, which by then had 48 seats. The parties subsequently held a victory rally at Dadar’s Shivaji Park, from where the Shiv Sena had first roared in 1966.
The parties vowed to sweep the 1990 state assembly election together and, though that didn’t happen, the writing on the wall was clear — the saffron in Maharashtra’s electoral politics was only growing starker.
The alliance surged in the post-Babri years and the Shiv Sena-BJP formed their first government in Maharashtra in 1995, with Manohar Joshi of the Shiv Sena as chief minister.
In that election, the allies’ seat-sharing formula got the BJP 117 of Maharashtra’s 288 assembly seats, while the Shiv Sena contested from 171.
The Shiv Sena won 73 seats, improving its tally from the earlier 52, while the BJP won 65, up from 42 in 1990. In the 1996 Lok Sabha polls too, the BJP won 18 seats from Maharashtra, while the Shiv Sena got 15.
The rules of the Shiv Sena-BJP ‘bromance’ were clear. The Shiv Sena will be the older brother in Maharashtra, and the BJP could dominate on the national turf.
Both parties initially grew on the back of the alliance, but the BJP’s growth soon started outpacing the Shiv Sena’s, threatening the equation agreed upon, and ultimately souring the friendship.
For instance, in the 2004 assembly polls, the BJP won 49 per cent of the seats it contested, as against the Sena’s 39 per cent. In 2009, these figures were 39 per cent and 27.5 per cent, respectively. In 2014, when the parties fought solo for the first time in 25 years, the BJP had a strike rate of 47.5 per cent against the Sena’s 22 per cent.
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Wave of saffron
The alliance between the parties was said to have been catalysed by the Sena’s emergence as a strong Hindutva force.
The Shiv Sena was born out of a nativist, sons of the soil agenda, but down the line, Thackeray realised that this may not help the party grow beyond Mumbai. The party, therefore, gradually began to espouse a larger Hindutva ideology.
“In the 1980s, almost the entire state was in the Congress’ grip,” said Sena old-timer Ravindra Mirlekar.
“The party was openly favouring Muslims and anything Hindu was being suppressed. The intention of the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) seemed to only be grabbing power. Shiv Sena pramukh Balasaheb Thackeray used to be the only one talking about this strongly through his speeches, writings, caricatures.”
Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray, who passed away in 2012, was a noted political cartoonist.
“Balasaheb would openly call for all Hindutvawadi parties to come together,” said Mirlekar, now a party samanvayak (coordinator). “Senior BJP leaders Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani and Pramod Mahajan recognised this need too, and extended a hand of friendship,” he added.
In his book Bal Thackeray and the Rise of the Shiv Sena, author and senior editor Vaibhav Purandare wrote that Thackeray’s Hindutva push had made secular parties as well as the BJP uncomfortable.
“Members of many Sangh Parivar constituents like the RSS, the Vishva Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal were finding Thackeray’s rantings more attractive than the BJP’s ‘Gandhian socialism’,” he wrote, “The BJP had begun to get a queasy sort of feeling; what was supposed to be its own job was being done by Bal Thackeray.”
The difference power makes
The threat of the Shiv Sena stealing a march over the BJP on the Hindutva agenda pushed the BJP towards an alliance, and the party, at its national convention in 1989, passed an official resolution that its state unit will work towards a tie-up with the Sena.
Beginning in 1989, Shiv Sena leaders remember a wave of saffron rallies at the landmark Shivaji Park and Girgaum Chowpatty in Mumbai, where senior BJP leaders such as Vajpayee and Advani would share the stage with Thackeray, and cries to “safeguard Hindutva” rang in loud echoes.
Former Union minister Mahajan, who died in 2006, was the local architect of the alliance and the one BJP leader Thackeray was said to have trusted. While there were differences in the early years of the alliance too, troubleshooter Mahajan defused them.
Several BJP leaders had reservations about allying with the Shiv Sena, which they saw as a brute force with a limited presence beyond Mumbai. However, for the Shiv Sena, the alliance was a launchpad to stamp its electoral presence in Maharashtra and be nationally relevant.
“For the Shiv Sainiks, it was simple,” said a senior leader of the Shiv Sena. “We were always a party born out of protest, rebellion. We worked for people who had more faith in our shakhas than their public representatives to get their work done.”
“There were no differences of opinion within the party like there are now. Our party leaders had never seen power, and hence never seen the benefits of power either. We unanimously followed what Balasaheb said. If allying with the BJP was going to make Hindutva stronger, and in turn our sangathan stronger, so be it,” the leader added.
“Today, things are different,” the leader said, explaining how things had changed since the initial days of the alliance. “Our people know what power tastes like, and though no one says anything openly against the party leadership, there are always undercurrents of different opinions.”
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The strap has been updated to reflect the correct year the Shiv Sena and the BJP contested an election together – 1984.