This is not what the 45-year-old chief minister of Maharashtra Devendra Fadnavis had hoped for ahead of the first anniversary of his government on November 1.
Ally Shiv Sena has been putting the ruling NDA alliance in the news for all the wrong reasons. In a throwback to its heydays, the Sena has been resorting to street styled ‘radas’ with great precision to hit out at Pakistani artistes, officials, and ‘anti-nationals’.
On Monday, Mumbai witnessed the third such incident in a fortnight when Sena workers stormed the office of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) protesting against a proposed meeting between BCCI chief Shashank Manohar and his Pakistani counterpart Shaharyar Khan. The earlier two incidents were the cancellation of ghazal maestro Ghulam Ali’s concert in Mumbai and an ink attack on Sudheendra Kulkarni in protest of organising a function to release a book written by former Pakistani foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri.
The real target, however, is the BJP which has replaced Sena as the big brother in Maharashtra and the latter has been unable to accept this role-reversal. There’s little denying that Sena’s going back to its roots is at the cost of the BJP-led state government.
The regional party has managed to hijack Fadnavis’ development agenda with intolerance and street-violence now more etched in public perception about this government than the ambitious ‘Make in Maharashtra’ campaign or the flagship Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan that promises to make the state drought-free.
With these three incidents the party has managed to gain ground which it lost to the BJP in the last one year. Days after the attack on Kulkarni, Fadnavis softened his stance on the Sena, ensuring the alliance would continue in the Mumbai civic polls in 2017.
The chief minister needs to call Sena’s bluff and rein in troublemakers. Fadnavis, who also holds the home portfolio, can send the signal by ensuring that those who create trouble face stringent criminal action. The next step is tougher — to play hard ball and say that things will not move forward unless the Sena stops jeopardising the government it is a part of.
The BJP government in the state is propped on the shoulders of 63 Sena legislators. But, the Sena is also unlikely to risk pulling out of the government and live in political oblivion, two years ahead of the Mumbai civic polls and four years before the assembly elections.
Even if the Sena pulls out of the government, it may not fall. The BJP is just short of 23 members in the assembly and has survived without the Sena’s support for first two months after forming the government.
The last Sena attack on the BCCI office was in 1999. The then Union home minister LK Advani met Sena founder Bal Thackeray to pacify the party. At that time, the attack was about winning the Hindu Right turf war against the BJP and galvanising its core support group.
This time around, the reasons are not too different. Fadnavis just has to remind the post-Bal Thackeray Sena that those days are over.