BJP can’t afford to write Shiv Sena off as a party on the decline

  • Shailesh Gaikwad, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: May 05, 2015 16:34 IST

Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar on Monday predicted the possibility of ruling alliance partners, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena, parting ways on the eve of the Mumbai civic elections. Pawar told the media the information came to him through the BJP leaders themselves.

From the day the BJP and Sena came together after a break-up during Assembly elections, the NCP has been predicting their divorce and even assuring support to the BJP in such an eventuality. While some pundits think this is a great political move, others think this is just tactical measure as the NCP cannot afford to be on the wrong side of the ruling party, given the number of cases in which inquiries are being conducted against its leaders.

The BJP, meanwhile, has been toying with the Sena, giving it little respect after the Assembly polls. The Sena chose to play second fiddle to the BJP as it was wary of the NCP grabbing the opportunity to share the power in the state, thus forcing it to sit on the opposition benches.

It is not surprising that the NCP would love to see the two parties breaking their alliance but will it happen? Insiders in the BJP are not sure of this, though many of them had a different opinion only six months ago.

The Sena made an impressive comeback in the civic polls in Aurangabad and Navi Mumbai, while the BJP’s performance was much below expectations, considering its success in Lok Sabha and Assembly polls.

In communally-sensitive Aurangabad, the Sena won 28 seats and performed better than the BJP which could bag 24 seats. The saffron combine still fell short by five but managed to win the majority with the help of independents.

The outcome in Navi Mumbai was more shocking for the BJP. It is a largely cosmopolitan area and the party won Assembly seat by defeating local NCP strongman Ganesh Naik six months ago. In the civic polls, the Sena won 38 seats while the BJP could win only 6. The NCP emerged the largest party by winning 52 out of 111 seats.

If these civic polls are any indication, the BJP will have to take extra efforts to win voters and looks like its top leaders in the state are not being able to do so. On the other hand, the civic polls as well as the Bandra Assembly by-election showed that the Sena has kept its voter base intact.

This also means the BJP may not afford to write off the Sena as a party on the decline. It would make more political sense for them to continue alliance with the Sena rather than joining hands with the NCP.

Not just the Sena leaders, but even BJP insiders say the Sena leadership is doing better. It won control in Aurangabad and two smaller civic bodies in Mumbai metropolitan region. It also managed to escape the blame of bad decisions of the government.

Taking a cue from Pawar’s NCP (when it was in power), the Sena leadership has been criticising the government for decisions that are not going down well with the people. It has been as vocal as the opposition parties when it comes to issues such as agrarian crisis in the state. It had already distanced itself from the controversial draft development plan of Mumbai much before chief minister Devendra Fadnavis was forced to announce that he was scrapping it.

Is Uddhav Thackeray slowly emerging as a much smarter leader than what his detractors and allies would have liked to believe?

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