Before election season, a tale of two frenemies | mumbai news | Hindustan Times
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Before election season, a tale of two frenemies

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had occasion to meet avid supporters of both the BJP and the Shiv Sena and news of their alliance does not seem to be hunky dory.

mumbai Updated: Jul 01, 2016 00:18 IST
Ayaz Memon
BJP

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had occasion to meet avid supporters of both the BJP and the Shiv Sena and news of their alliance does not seem to be hunky dory.

I’ll spare you the harangue and sum it up in one short sentence: “We’ll stuff them”, was the common refrain of both for the other. Considering that these are supporters and not party functionaries, the cleavage in the alliance clearly runs deep.

So, while the bugles declaring open war have still not been heard loud and clear, there is little doubt that firm battle lines have been drawn. This has become even more evident by recent statements and happenings in which mutual discontent has become profuse.

For instance, when Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray inaugurated a storm-water pumping station at Reay Road earlier this week, none of the senior officials from the BJP in the BMC except deputy mayor Alka Kerkar were present at the event.

One could argue that they may have been pre-occupied, but the more likely scenario was that they had boycotted the event. The slight to the Shiv Sena is not insignificant, considering that it was the party’s head honcho presiding over the function.

In some ways, this was perhaps expected given the vitriol the Shiv Sena has been heaping on the BJP, particularly its Mumbai chief Ashish Shelar. Swipes have periodically been taken, even at party president Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi too which has queered the pitch further.

When an alliance comes under duress, interesting and tell-tale signs are periodically thrown up as to how the future may shape up. The tension begins at the top, of course, but spreads gradually through the ranks and files. In such a situation, statements from designated spokespersons in the alliance tend to get cacophonic, praise for the other party being interspersed with potshots. When the latter get equal to, or larger than the praise, the conflict starts taking a more serious shape.

Slowly, the barbs start getting aimed at the men in charge, and if this is unfettered over time, it puts the issue on the boil. The ranks and files start to see the smoke signals for what they are: once the critical threshold is crossed, they can barely be restrained.

Generally this is accompanied by a rise in overt one-upmanship and power-play to portray itself as the more relevant factor in the alliance. When this becomes an everyday occurrence, the situation has taken a dire turn.

The upcoming BMC elections — with issues that have come under scrutiny like road repairs — forced the Sena to be on the backfoot. But the Eknath Khadse case allowed them a strong comeback.

But while it may seem that these events have got the BJP and Sena in strident opposition to each other, the differences run deeper in time. The alliance has actually been a roller-coaster ride ever since the state elections in 2014.

A hung assembly brought the two together after protracted negotiations that could have snapped at any stage. That the BJP did as well as it did in the elections had the Shiv Sena smarting. The offer of ‘outside’ support from the NCP probably forced it into continuing the old alliance.

In the two years since, however, relations have rarely been cordial. The Shiv Sena sees the BJP encroaching on its political space of ‘hard’ Hindutva, and the BJP sees less and less benefit for itself in the alliance.

But with the NCP worried about its own future — no longer open to give outside support — the BJP can’t precipitate a break-up much as it may want to, which allows the Sena to become more strident by the day and reclaim its space. The immediate objective of both parties, of course, is to do well in the BMC polls. But its impact will also be felt on how the state shapes up politically for the next assembly elections.

What may seem as short-term positions are being taken with a long term strategy in view, making for an engaging thrust and parry game that is being watched carefully by everybody, not the least I would presume, the NCP and the Congress.