Even if Maharashtra votes for change in the upcoming Assembly polls, we may still have to suffer a difficult coalition government, much like the incumbent Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) regime for the past 15 years.
That will be the result of the ongoing power tussle between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena, who have been allies for the past 25 years.
On Friday, the saffron partners seemed to have buried the hatchet and decided to face the elections as a coalition. Though an amicable seat-sharing formula is yet to be worked out, the two sides are now saying they will stick together.
But this is unlikely to be the end of the political one-upmanship between the parties.
With Modi government at the Centre and space for seasoned leadership in the state BJP after the death of senior politicians like Pramod Mahajan and Gopinath Munde, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray may not follow in his father’s footsteps.
Political observers agree that the saffron combine is more volatile now than ever before. And, there are some sound reasons for Sena’s aggressiveness, though it may not have base in the party’s past electoral performances.
“There is little doubt that Modi wants a BJP government in the state and not a coalition. In time, this will include control over Mumbai, the country’s financial capital. Uddhav is aware that if there is a BJP chief minister, the Sena’s role will be marginalised,” said Prakash Bal, political analyst.
“The Sena has experienced how the party was given side ministerial portfolios after the Lok Sabha polls, how its opinion was not sought over the appointment of governors, etc. It has its back against the wall and hence is fighting to ensure its dominant space and identity as a regional party,” he added,Sena is also not likely to forget that the BJP had drifted close to rival party the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena earlier, and is capable of doing it again.
Sources within the two parties admit that it will be difficult for their party cadre to work as a single unit because of the existing bitterness. With Uddhav throwing in his hat for the CM post, the real compromise will be whether the saffron allies come to an understanding that splits the post between them for half the tenure.
Ground realties have forced the fighting allies together. BJP still has the Modi card and can once again whip up sentiment about the PM to corner support in urban constituencies. It has even started putting up banners in Mumbai appealing people to vote in Modi’s name.
But the party does not have a ground level presence like the Sena. In Konkan, Marathwada, areas in Mumbai and its metropolitan region, and even in some pockets of North Maharashtra, the Sena has a stronger presence than its ally.
A split will lead to Sena campaigning against the BJP on the plank of Maharashtra’s pride, with the ruling Congress-NCP alliance getting the advantage of a three- or a potential four-cornered contest.
“No one wants to give that advantage to Congress-NCP. We are so close to the winning line. Also, neither Sena nor BJP are prepared to take the risk. Now, it’s all about who drives a better bargain,” said a senior BJP leader.