After playing second fiddle to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the state-level, the Shiv Sena is trying to ascertain its identity as a force to reckon with by forcing the BJP to clarify its stand on the future of the alliance, heading into civic polls across Maharashtra.
In a meeting on Thursday, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray told senior party leaders to be prepared for an independent fight, indicating that it is was now up to the BJP to start talks with the Sena if it wants to keep the alliance. According to party sources, Thackeray said Sena’s final battle is with its own friend, and if it wins this one, the party will emerge all-powerful.
A senior Sena leader said, “Although there is no definitive decision on forming an alliance for the Mumbai civic elections, he has told us to be prepared to fight it out alone. He made it clear that if the BJP wants an alliance for Mumbai, then the party should approach us. We won’t go with a begging bowl.”
Thackeray cited examples of regional parties led by Jayalalitha’s AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) in West Bengal, and Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Odisha, saying the Sena is also capable of coming to power on its own.
Earlier this month, Thackeray had attempted to put the ball about the alliance in the BJP’s court and elicit a response from its ally by daring it to walk out of the alliance instead of back-stabbing the Sena.
“Mumbai belongs to Sena and Sena to Mumbai. Whenever any trouble has befallen the city, it is Shiv Sena’s saffron that has come to the city’s rescue...If you are ready to walk with us together, do come happily, but don’t expect us to follow you with a begging bowls,” the Sena chief had said.
The BJP has, however, been shrugging off s Sena’s taunts as bargaining tactics. Despite consistent nudges from its ally, party leaders have chosen to remain silent and continue its attacks on the Shiv Sena-controlled Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), of which the BJP too is a part, alleging massive corruption.
Experts attribute Uddhav Thackeray’s assertive politics to his attempt to change the party’s image as the BJP’s junior partner and consolidate its position as a dominant force ahead of the 2019 assembly polls.
Surendra Jondhale, who heads Mumbai University’s department of civics and politics, said, “This is all part of the Shiv Sena’s game plan for the 2019 assembly polls. Currently, there is no proper recognition to the Shiv Sena in the coalition. Uddhav’s posturing is to show that he still dictates terms in Mumbai and makes the final decisions here. It is important for him to establish the Shiv Sena’s controlling position.”
The Sena-BJP alliance has been at the helm of BMC for the past 20 years, with the Sena being the senior partner. However, future of the alliance is now under question with the BJP looking to aggressively expand in Mumbai, Sena’s home turf. Local Sena and BJP leaders have been sparring in the open, with the latter accusing the Sena of massive corruption in the BMC, and BJP MP Kirit Somaiya going as far as saying that his party will contest all the 227 seats in the civic polls.