For the past two years, even as the Shiv Sena and the BJP were often at loggerheads, their government in Maharashtra was never in trouble. The Sena mouthpiece Saamana repeatedly took on the government and the BJP’s Mumbai leaders such as Ashish Shelar publicly targeted the Sena’s first family, but the strain was rarely seen in the government. This was because chief minister Devendra Fadnavis was in direct touch with Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. The two was well aware of each other’s political compulsions and so maintained a mutually beneficial ‘working relationship’.
Fadnavis knew the Sena was his best option, rather than taking the support of the NCP whom he and his party had targeted over corruption during the assembly election campaign. There were several issues between the two allies but he managed to sort them out by directly getting in touch with Thackeray.
Even though the BJP top leadership was keen to go solo in Mumbai, Fadnavis initially adopted a cautious stand. He did not want to give the Congress and the NCP any chance to make a comeback and favoured an alliance with the Shiv Sena across the state. Fadnavis and several state BJP leaders were wary of the negative impact of demonetisation in rural areas. So, for them, an alliance with Sena was a safe bet.
To keep the Sena happy, Fadnavis alloted the Mayor’s bungalow in Mumbai for a memorial to the late Sena founder Bal Thackeray. He also made it a point to get Thackeray on board when Prime Minister Narendra Modi performed the ‘jalpujan’ for the Shivaji statue off the Mumbai coast.
However, he and Thackeray could not find an amicable seat sharing formula in Mumbai and the tussle turned increasingly bitter. The question now is: Will there be achche din for the Fadnavis-Thackeray friendship again?
They need each other. The Sena emerged as largest party in the BMC but is 30 short of a majority. Thackeray will need the BJP to rule the BMC — unless he teams up with the Congress, which is unlikely. Fadnavis too will need the Sena in some local bodies where the BJP has not got a clear majority.
The two sides could work out a power-sharing formula in the next few days. For Thackeray, the best bet would be to stick with the BJP at a time when people across the state have favoured that party.
However, will the two become friends again or just stick together out of political necessity? Time will tell.