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A marriage on the rocks

Bal Thackeray is also no longer the force he was. He did not even have energy to rouse his 'army' at the Dussehra rally this year.

india Updated: Oct 06, 2006 03:40 IST

Like the Queen of Hearts in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Shiv Sena patriarch Bal Thackeray is wont to shout “Off with his head!” while settling all difficulties, great or small. His quick-fix solution of the Shiv Sena chopping off ties with the BJP has been hurled from the ramparts of Matoshree each time there has been a problem with the saffron alliance. And there have been many. But in the two decades of cohabitation, there was always the Sena-BJP alliance’s architect, Pramod Mahajan, to iron out the differences and soothe Mr Thackeray’s runaway ego. In the process, the BJP almost always gave in to the Sena tiger. So vis-à-vis the BJP, Mr Thackeray is used to having his cake and eating it too. Mahajan’s decisions did not always go down well with the rank and file within the BJP. But those were the days when the saffron star was on the ascendant and Big Brother BJP could afford to make concessions so as not to mar its chances in Maharashtra, the second largest state in terms of Lok Sabha seats.

Things are now different. Mr Mahajan is no longer there to play nanny. The BJP has not much to lose anymore. The Shiv Sena has suffered a schism after Raj Thackeray’s exit from the family fold. Balasaheb Thackeray is also no longer the force he was and this was evident by the fact that he did not even have the energy to rouse his ‘army’ at the annual Dussehra rally this year. In this changed landscape, Shiv Sainiks are seeking greener pastures at a time when their party lacks even the roar it once had. So the new leadership in the Maharashtra unit of the BJP is taking the first tentative step towards branching out on its own; a better option than riding piggy-back on an old and tired Shiv Sena.

The truth is, neither the Sena nor the BJP has much to gain any more from their arranged marriage. It was never a trouble-free relationship, but the ambitions and equations of the top leaders of both parties prevented the two parties  from coming unstuck. But the fight, started by the BJP this time by demanding a seat vacated by a Sena legislator, also indicates the changing equations within the BJP itself. There is no love lost between Maharashtra BJP president Nitin Gadkari and Mahajan’s brother-in-law Gopinath Munde. Mr Munde wants the alliance to continue but does not get along with Uddhav Thackeray, who is now calling the shots in the Sena. Only Bal Thackeray can resolve the issue, but the outcome will depend on who blinks first: Mr Gadkari or Mr Thackeray. Whatever it is, this latest spat clearly signals the beginning of the end of an era that few will lament in Maharashtra.