Traditionally in Maharashtra politics, winter session of the state legislature often witnesses political events or developments that have an effect on the state’s politics.
This year’s winter session (which is always held in the state’s second capital Nagpur) has, however, not lived to this expectation so far. In fact, the session has been smooth sailing for Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the divided and clueless Opposition has not cornered the government on any issue.
Moreover, the BJP’s troublesome ally Shiv Sena has not caused any trouble as long as the state government is concerned.
In the first week of the session, the Sena was not much aggressive on the Assembly floor. The reason behind this is cordial relations between Fadnavis and Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. The former is ensuring that the Sena leadership does not feel left out as he runs the government and that motivates the latter to not corner him.
The Sena leadership has not been comfortable with BJP’s central leadership — Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah. The duo has not forgotten the Sena’s attack on them during the Maharashtra Assembly polls. The Sena’s grudge is that PM Modi gives more importance to allies like Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu and Punjab CM Prakash Singh Badal than the Sena, which has more members in the Parliament than these two parties. No wonder, the Sena continues to be vocal against the policies of the central government and doesn’t leave any opportunity to embarrass the BJP nationally.
According to the BJP leaders in Maharashtra, the party top brass is not entirely sure on how to deal with the Sena at this juncture. As long as Maharashtra is concerned the major political event is the elections in civic bodies and Zilla Parishads (district councils) being held across the state till February-March next year in phases.
The elections are being held as the BJP-led government in the state is nearing its halfway mark in its five-year tenure. Though often civic and district polls are contested on local issues, they are also seen as an indicator of the popularity of the incumbent government. They are being touted as mini-Assembly elections and the outcome could set the tone for 2019 assembly elections.
For Fadnavis and his party, it is important to win maximum of civic and district bodies and show that the BJP is the main political party in the state and people are happy with its governance. As such, the BJP is likely to avoid friction with the Sena if it helps politically. As long as Mumbai is concerned, the party is still assessing the situation — whether it can win more seats than the Sena and gain control of India’s biggest and richest civic body on its terms. Party sources say the final decision would depend on the outcome of civic polls in small cities and district councils that will be conducted in the next few weeks.
If it continues winning as happened in the first phase, it would get more confident and could contest on its own. If the demonetisation and other issues turn out to be problematic for the party, it would try and work out an alliance with the Sena.
The Sena leadership too is assessing the situation on the similar lines. It wants to see how the voters respond to Modi government’s move of demonetisation and whether they continue to vote for the BJP. If Uddhav Thackeray thinks it is right time to show his political might, he would not hesitate going solo. “In 2014, we were in two minds about forging alliance with the BJP. This time there is clarity in the top brass. If we are benefitting from the alliance, there will be a tie-up. Else, we will go separate ways,”said a key Sena leader. “There is always an option of post-poll alliance, as we saw after the assembly polls,”he added.