Uddhav Thackeray is an exceptionally lucky political leader — every time someone writes him off or underestimates the Shiv Sena, his party bounces back, like it did in the 2007 and 2012 municipal corporation elections and in the Lok Sabha polls earlier this year.
Of course, critics would say the Shiv Sena’s good showing in the parliamentary elections was not Uddhav’s doing but a result of the total sweep that Narendra Modi effected, particularly across Maharashtra. They may be right to a certain extent. But in denying Uddhav the credit for that victory, most of those critics forget that he dutifully played along with the BJP even when Nitin Gadkari was going behind his back to meet Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray who fielded candidates against the Shiv Sena. Not just this, Uddhav was not even invited to attend Narendra Modi’s rallies (except the last one) in Maharashtra. He swallowed his bile and made a saffron victory possible. Had he chosen to, even unofficially, deal with the Congress or Sharad Pawar’s NCP, such a huge victory for Modi might not have been possible.
And yet the oldest and most loyal ally of the BJP was rewarded with just one ministerial berth — that too a relatively light-weight ministry, that of heavy industries. The same portfolio was used by Atal Bihari Vajpayee to accommodate the Shiv Sena’s Manohar Joshi when Bal Thackeray was upset with Joshi and made sure Suresh Prabhu was given the more respectable energy ministry. Vilasrao Deshmukh was given the same portfolio when the Congress did not know where to park him after he had to resign as Maharashtra chief minister following the 26/11 attacks and Praful Patel found his way to that ministry when the UPA wanted to cut the NCP down to size, taking away from him the more high-profile civil aviation ministry at the time.
One wonders on what basis the BJP has been laying the law down to the Shiv Sena over the seat distribution for the assembly polls which are due on October 15. The result of this week’s by-elections clearly show that the BJP cannot take its Lok Sabha victory for granted and that Amit Shah might not really be the wonder boy that everyone is making him out to be. The Shiv Sena has immensely contributed to the growth of the BJP over the years and I do not recall Bal Thackeray ever asking for his pound of flesh despite his party consistently performing better than the BJP, particularly in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and barring the assembly polls the same ye’s better grassroots presence that enabled the BJP to make a good showing at the polls ever since it tied up with the Shiv Sena. Thackeray had a pact with Pramod Mahajan that he would play the lead role in the state and concede that position to the BJP at the Centre and he stuck to his word even when he did better than the BJP in various polls.
With a complete lack of leadership in the state unit of the BJP following the untimely demise of Gopinath Munde, one wonders what makes the party think that it is going to sweep the Maharashtra assembly elections the way it did the Lok Sabha polls.
Clearly the Shah formula is not working even in Gujarat anymore and no amount of polarisation could ensure a BJP victory even in Uttar Pradesh. Maharashtra has always been a socialist state by virtue of its DNA, home to many progressive movements over the centuries, and the BJP could even not win the RSS’ home turf Nagpur until 2014. So it stands to reason that the BJP needs the Shiv Sena more and not the other way round. It is about time that the BJP showed a little more respect to an ally which has always described itself as ‘Lakshman’ to the BJP’s ‘Ram’.
But I wish Uddhav would show more spine in the wake of the bypoll results. Now is the time to shed his politeness and let the BJP know who needs who the more.
Given the mental makeup of Maharashtra, there will always be room here for the Shiv Sena. I am not so sure of a hardline Hindu BJP.