“From 1985 to 1987, the Shiv Sena was solely in charge of the Hindu wave in the country. My problem was that if I am not with the Shiv Sena, it would slowly kill me and capture my entire constituency. So, it stands to reason that if you cannot beat them, you join them…’’
This is how the late Pramod Mahajan, BJP leader and one of the architects of the saffron alliance in Maharashtra, explained the political expediency of his party’s tie-up with Shiv Sena in a candid interview with author Thomas Blom Hansen in 1992.
Twenty-five years down the line, aided by the BJP’s sweeping win in the 2014 elections, the need for such an alliance seems to have died.
After having played second fiddle to the Sena for over two decades, which often meant toeing the line of the mercurial Bal Thackeray, next-generation BJP leaders in the state think the time has come for a role reversal.
They want to beat their ally and, if possible, kill it. And, if the Sena has to be beaten, their first strike should be at its seat of power for over two decades – Mumbai. Last week, a majority of the BJP leaders in Maharashtra looked on with glee as Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray announced the party’s break-up with BJP in the upcoming Mumbai civic polls. For over a year, the BJP has been systematically preparing to contest these polls on its own. An extended goal was to put the Sena on the mat over corruption in the Rs 30,000-crore Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for the last 20-odd years.
Thackeray said he was pulling the rug from under the proposed alliance for the upcoming polls because the BJP “wanted to encroach on my home”.
“For 25 years, the Sena has rotted in this alliance. Now, we will tread a new path. The Sena will hoist the saffron flag by itself. I will never go with a begging bowl for an alliance,” he had declared on January 26.
The Shiv Sena, however, clarified that the break-up will not impact the state government – which it supports with 63 legislators. The BJP, which has 122 legislators, needs 22 more to achieve a simple majority .
There are also talks that despite the tussle, the parties may come together to rule the BMC in a post-poll alliance.
Nevertheless, those in the state’s political circles see the second break-up between the saffron allies (the first came ahead of the 2014 assembly polls) as the beginning of the end.
They say it’s clear that the allies will turn opponents by 2019. “For Sena, this is a battle for survival. If his party loses its position in Mumbai to the BJP, Thackeray will find it hard to keep his flock together. In any case, it is very likely that he will walk out of the government ahead of the 2019 elections,” said political analyst Prakash Bal. The battle between the partners has only become uglier since the break-up.
The BJP termed Sena as a “party of extortionists”, and compared Thackeray to Duryodhana – the antagonist from the Mahabharata. The Sena, for its part, referred to the BJP as a “party of goons”.
A senior BJP minister claimed his party has nothing to lose in the upcoming polls. “In Mumbai, we will double our seat share from 31 to at least 65. The Sena, however, will have to concede its position as a minor partner and start toeing the line...’’ he said.
“Unless we face a crushing defeat in the upcoming assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh and other states, we are sure that any future alliance here will happen on our terms. We were bullied for 30 years, but the power dynamics have changed now. The Sena has been too vituperative with our central leadership. If they do not toe the line, we will break the party in the next two years. We need just 22 legislators to achieve a simple majority, and the Nationalist Congress Party is willing to support us,’’ the minister added.