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Shiv Sena-BJP: another divorce in offing?

columns Updated: Jun 19, 2013 16:36 IST
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Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar could not have put it better when he said the BJP has been making it increasingly difficult for other parties to keep allying with it. Of course, it took Nitish more than a decade to realise the unsustainable position that his Gujarat counterpart, Narendra Modi, has been leading the NDA into but his statement holds true not just of secular parties in the country. Bal Thackeray believed much the same at one time but was not sharp enough to break with the BJP and maximise his gains as Nitish is now doing.

The Shiv Sena has expressed sadness at the breakup of the NDA but I will not be surprised if in the not too distant future the Sena decides to follow in Nitish's footsteps and makes a clean break from the longest lasting alliance in Indian coalition politics. I notice BJP spokespersons have been raking up history for a long time without quite understanding that in Indian politics the here and now is all that matters; no one holds the future to ransom over yesterday's promises. Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde went back on his word in just 30 days - he promised a resolution of the Telangana issue in a month and another minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, took back that promise at the end of that period. Similarly Sharad Pawar broke with the Congress on the issue of Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin and now he sticks firmly to her side to be able to keep his head above water in the electoral sweepstakes. It was the need of the hour that dictated those decisions and that instinct for survival alone counts for everything.

Uddhav Thackeray, who now heads the Shiv Sena, had that instinct and recognised the need of the hour for his party as long back as 2004 when he realised that the Sena, which had come to power on the basis of a large percentage of Muslim votes in 1995, was simply not getting "even one Muslim vote'' after the Gujarat 2002 riots. Muslims in Maharashtra had forgiven Thackeray for the 1992-93 conflagrations following the demolition of the Babri Masjid and, based on their experience of doing business with Sena corporators in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, they had decided to give the party a chance to redeem itself in 1995. Thackeray may not have apologised per se for those riots but he made his contrition clear in other ways - one of them being calling for a secular monument, like a school or a hospital, to be built on the site of the Babri Masjid, instead of a temple. Ashok Singhal, the then president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, wrathfully labelled him a 'vivekheen (brainless) Hindu' for daring to build bridges with the minorities. Thackeray then ceased to lend his might to the VHP for various bandhs and agitations it called in subsequent years, leading to the failure of every one of those movements at least in Maharashtra.

However, since it was Pramod Mahajan of the BJP who had sought Thackeray out for an alliance in the mid-1980s, Uddhav could do little about divorcing his party from the BJP while both Mahajan and Thackeray were alive. But ever since then there has been little love lost between him and BJP leaders in Maharashtra who, too, have long desired to call off the alliance for they were not growing under the Sena's shadow but were held together by LK Advani, another leader who Bal Thackeray admired. Pushed to the margins in the BJP, that last bit of glue might also now come unstuck for, unlike Balasaheb, there is nothing the Sena can bring to the BJP's table today. They have Narendra Modi now and his overpowering personality is all that it takes to sideline even their own leaders. Subsuming the Sena will be child's play for Modi.

Modi is clearly on the way to becoming the Hindu Hriday Samrat - a term coined by Thackeray for himself in the mid-1980s when he was making a paradigm shift from regional politics to one based on religion, much before the BJP had come into the picture. The Sena would hate to concede that title to Modi. But that's not all. Modi has a soft corner for Uddhav's estranged cousin Raj Thackeray who is more up his street and that adds to the distrust.
In any case, every party has the right to maximise its gains according to the changing circumstances as both the BJP and JD(U) have now done. Why should the Shiv Sena not protect its own turf?

(The views expressed are personal.)