BJP-Sena ties: Past imperfect, future uncertain

  • Shailesh Gaikwad, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Mar 03, 2015 17:16 IST

While the BJP is wondering how to douse the fire over the land acquisition bill, Uddhav Thackeray, the chief of ally Shiv Sena, on Monday demanded a meeting of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) members, to discuss the objectionable provisions of the bill.

The Sena’s outburst over the land bill is the latest in its tirade against the BJP-led governments at the Centre as well as the state. A week ago, it criticised chief minister Devendra Fadnavis over the delay in catching the killers of veteran communist leader Govind Pansare. Before that, the Sena objected to provisions of the city’s development plan, prepared under the guidance of the urban development department headed by Fadnavis.

In the past couple of months, the intensity and frequency of Sena’s criticism has increased, especially after BJP lost the Delhi assembly polls. The BJP has largely kept quiet, but gives back to the Sena once in a while. The latest was seen in the civic body on February 25, when it teamed up with the Opposition to turn down a Sena-backed proposal to allow rooftop restaurants in Mumbai.

Meanwhile, a coordination committee of the two parties held a meeting to discuss contentious issues, but nothing came out of it. But the allies are continuing in the government, like a bad marriage.

Going by what can be gleaned from the Sena camp, there are two issues. First, the party leadership is unhappy with the raw deal it got while joining the state government. The BJP did not give it any strategically or politically important portfolios. As such, the Sena has no say when it comes to issues related to policing, urban development policies, finance, irrigation or revenue. The other issue is BJP’s plans to become the big brother in the city’s municipal body too.

After all, the BMC – whose budget is equivalent to that of a small state – has been the Sena’s source of strength for a long time. As long as it has control over the civic body of India’s financial capital, the Sena will remain an influential political force. And this is what the BJP wants to end.

It wants to be in the position to call the shots in the BMC. Buoyed by its success in the assembly polls, the BJP plans to contest the BMC elections on its own, if required. It has already started executing its plan in this direction.

This explains the Sena’s unease. As January-February 2017 (when the civic elections are scheduled) draw closer, the restlessness and the bitterness may increase.

The Sena top brass thinks Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah are not giving the party its due.

Thackeray also points out how his father was the only politician who supported Modi when he was facing enormous criticism after the 2002 Gujarat riots. Often, the party’s demands are ignored. The party has been waiting for the expansion of the Maharashtra Cabinet and one more berth in the Union government, but there are no such indications from the BJP yet.

According to Sena insiders, the general sentiment in the party’s top brass is that they should bide their time. The party leadership is yet to make up its mind whether it will quit the government if things don’t change, and, if they do, when is the right time to act.

The BJP, on its part, has kept the NCP option open. PM Modi’s visit to Baramati to share stage with NCP chief Sharad Pawar has encouraged a section in the BJP that wants to ally with the NCP and dump the Sena. Chief minister Fadnavis would prefer to run the government with the Sena, but may not have a say if his bosses decide on who should be their ally.

The year 2015 could be crucial for the two parties, who ended their two-decade alliance only to reunite after the assembly polls. Will the tension grow? Will any of the two allies back out or the alliance will head for trouble? Both the camps are still weighing their options.

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