By Kalyani Shankar
After all the bickering the Shiv Sena has decided to part ways with the BJP. The party has passed a resolution in its national executive meeting last week that it will go it alone in the upcoming 2019 Lok Sabha and the Assembly polls. The two oldest ideological partners have been hurling abuses at each other for the past three years and more. Ironically, playing opportunistic politics, Sena wants to continue in the state government in which it is a coalition partner and also remain in the NDA. Incidentally, the Sena is the second largest constituent of the BJP-led NDA at the Centre, with 18 members in the Lok Sabha. Many expect the Sena to come out of the state government nearer the polls. Power is the glue and the Sena does not want to give up power in the interim period.
The two partners have had a roller-coaster partnership for a quarter century and more. Looking to the future, one partner is having a secret affair with the BJP while the other is wooing the Nationalist Congress Party.
Why is this break-up? Ostensibly the official reason appears to be that the BJP had departed from their common Hindutva ideology. Shiv Sena, launched by Balasaheb Thackeray in 1966 was the first to champion the twin causes of Hindutva and regionalism. The BJP, born after 23 years, picked up the same Hindutva plank in 1989. It was the BJP leader late Pramod Mahajan who brokered the alliance on the Hindutva plank.
There have been many milestones for the Sena, as its chief Balasaheb Thackeray remained an icon for millions of Sevaks, mostly youth, for four decades and influenced the political course of Maharashtra. The Sena saw its peak in the 1990s and formed the government in the state in 1995 with the BJP as its junior partner. But the next decade saw the decline of the Sena. During the lifetime of Balasaheb the party also split when his nephew Raj Thackeray formed his own Maharashtra Navnirman, Sena. Shiv Sena continued under the leadership of Uddhav Thackeray, the chosen heir of Balasaheb. After the death of Balasaheb, the party lost a charismatic leader. With changing aspirations, the Sena is looking for a new plank unable to extricate itself from old ideology and adopt a more modern 21st century ideology. The Sena’s strength lies in its cadres and the cult like loyalty to Bal Thackeray.
Vibes from the Shiv Sena have been cold ever since the BJP won more seats in the 2014 polls. The Sena was jealous and insecure that the BJP had graduated from the junior partner to senior partner in the coalition running Maharashtra. The party was not fully supportive of Modi’s prime ministerial bid. In the post- poll scenario, it shares power with the BJP at the Centre under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and in Maharashtra under chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. The party was upset that its representative Anant Geete did not get a hefty portfolio in Modi’s cabinet. It did not like the BJP shaking hands with the PDP in Jammu and Kashmir. There have been many more such complaints, which resulted in further cracks.
In these fifty-one years, the Sena has seen ups and downs like many other political parties. Its current ambition is to remain relevant in Maharashtra and not cede ground to the BJP.
Secondly, the relationship between the two parties is not very comfortable unlike the earlier times when there was perfect understanding between Balasaheb and the BJP leaders Advani and Vajpayee. Uddhav has not let go of any opportunity to criticise Prime Minister Modi.
Thirdly the Sena does not agree with most of the NDA policies, local or national. It has been a key constituent of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) ever since the latter was formed in 1998. Yet there are several issues including the Jaitapur nuclear power project, the Land Acquisition bill, the Metro 3 project, and the beef controversies they do not see eye to eye. The Sena is upset that BJP had admitted Narayan Rane, a Congress leader who was a Sainik earlier. The two parties contested elections in UP and Gujarat separately. It had no impact, as they were not able to split the votes.
Fourthly, The BJP wants to make Maharashtra its stronghold like neighbouring Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. A major hurdle in its plans is the Sena, which shares its voter base.
There are four important parties in the state – Congress, BJP, Shiv Sena and the NCP. The NCP leader Sharad Pawar, who is making efforts to form a non-BJP coalition is delighted that the Sena-BJP will not be fighting together. The urban picture for the BJP is good but not the rural picture. While the Maratha movement has petered down the Dalit movement, farmers’ woes, jobs and price rise are likely to be poll issues.
Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis wants the state to go for polls with the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. If the Congress and NCP come together in the next Lok Sabha and Assembly polls the arithmetic will be different. The Sena-BJP if they fight together, the chances of getting more seats are bright for both but if they fight independently, then their vote share might be split to the advantage of the Congress-NCP combine. (IPA Service)