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Why is BJP tolerating Shiv Sena?

Mumbai city news: In past three years, since the Modi government took over at the Centre and the BJP came to power in Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena has been criticising the two governments, often in bitter language

mumbai Updated: Jun 20, 2017 01:26 IST
Shailesh Gaikwad
BJP National President Amit Shah accompanied by Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis and State BJP chief Raosaheb Danve greet Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray and his son Aditya at Matoshree on Sunday.
BJP National President Amit Shah accompanied by Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis and State BJP chief Raosaheb Danve greet Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray and his son Aditya at Matoshree on Sunday. (PTI)

If the top brass of the BJP in Maharashtra was hoping that the ‘chai pe charcha’ between their party chief Amit Shah and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray at the latter’s residence would mellow down Thackeray a bit, they were jolted by another salvo by the Sena mouthpiece, Saamna, on Monday morning.

“You should focus on bringing stability in Kashmir and Darjeeling rather than worrying about mid-term elections in Maharashtra,” rapped the Marathi daily, which proclaims Sena’s stand on everything under the sun. In the evening, Thackeray dared the BJP to conduct mid-term polls and see what happens.

On the same day, Shah announced Bihar Governor Ramnath Kovind as the National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA) presidential candidate. Even non-NDA parties like Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) and Biju Janata Dal (BJD) announced their support to Kovind. But the BJP’s oldest ally, Shiv Sena, kept the former waiting.

This is not something that has happened for the first time. In past three years, since the Modi government took over at the Centre and the BJP came to power in Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena has been criticising the two governments, often in bitter language. There were several occasions when the BJP leaders in the state felt that the opposition parties like Congress were less harsh in their criticism than its own ally.

But then, why the BJP (which has clear majority in the Lok Sabha and still enjoying public support) is tolerating a party like Sena? This is the question that keeps doing rounds in the political circles every time the Sena targets its ally.

Although BJP leaders are unhappy with the constant bickering with the Sena, they insist that the party has chosen not to react much to the Sena’s aggression. They say the party is showing patience because of political compulsion and also as a strategy.

BJP’s political compulsion comes from the fact that the party needs support of roughly 20 legislators on the floor of the assembly as it has 122 members and the magic figure is 145 in the House of 288. The BJP has the option to get support of the Shiv Sena or Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and some other leaders are not keen on discontinuing alliance with the Sena because they think the latter despite its rhetoric is a better option than the NCP. In the run-up to the 2014 elections, the BJP had launched campaign against the NCP over the issue of corruption and joining hands with that party would not go down well with the people, they opine.

Party insiders also say the BJP did have the option to split the Sena to put an end to the constant trouble but Fadnavis knows it can get messy and affect his image. In last three years he has managed to keep his image clean and would prefer to avoid the tag of being power-hungry.

At the same time, the BJP is adopting a strategy to eat into the Sena space while keeping the enemy close.

“The civic polls showed that we have managed to expand our base and replaced Congress as the main political party in the state. We have even taken over the Sena’s space in several parts of the state,”says a key BJP leader. “This also means the Sena’s rhetoric against us is not damaging us. It will also put a question mark over that party’s credibility as they criticize us and yet continue in power,”he adds.

So will this bickering go on for full five years as Shah has indicated that the Fadnavis government will last entire term?

Nobody in the BJP and the Sena is sure but they think the bitter allies will not part anytime soon. As of now, the priority for the BJP is to win the presidential poll and ensure smooth rollout of the Goods and Services Tax. On the other hand, the Sena too is wary of the outcome if it walks out of the government now. There is likelihood that both sides will continue bickering but remain in an alliance for some more time. Will they part ways in 2018 or closer to next elections in 2019? That will depend on what suits both the parties, especially the BJP.