Will the Sena play ball with the BJP?
In 2007 and 2012, the Shiv Sena chose to side with the winning candidatemumbai Updated: May 03, 2017 00:13 IST
As Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray climbed down from his high horse and deigned to attend a dinner thrown by Narendra Modi for allies of the NDA, two things were absolutely clear — one, there was a trade-off between the Union government and its ally over Ravindra Gaikwad’s flying ban and two, that the BJP still needs the Shiv Sena one more time, before junking its troublesome ally forever.
With presidential elections due in July and with no clear majority in the Rajya Sabha despite its good showing in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP cannot have forgotten that the Shiv Sena is a mischief-maker when it comes to presidential polls over the past decade. In 2007, the party opted for UPA-1 candidate Pratibha Patil on the ground that she was Maharashtrian and they could not have voted against their Marathi manoos ethos. But, what about 2012 when they voted for UPA-2 candidate Pranab Mukherjee? Bal Thackeray’s justification then was that Mukherjee was a great parliamentarian — which was rather an insult to NDA candidate PA Sangma, who had also been a great parliamentarian and a speaker of the Lok Sabha. The BJP could do nothing in either case. It had to swallow its anger and continue the alliance as though this was no great breach of trust or betrayal.
Despite a strong showing by the BJP in 2014 and in some states recently, the Shiv Sena is still being mischievous with regard to the presidential polls. It recently suggested the name of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, knowing that there was no way the BJP could reject that name outright. It was left to Bhagwat to deny his bid for the presidency and he had to be categorical. “Even if my name is officially suggested, I am going to turn it down.’’
In 2007 and 2012, the Shiv Sena chose to side with the winning candidate. This time, going against the BJP’s choice of candidate would mean opting for a potential loser — though the Congress has indicated that it will put up its own candidate, there is no way they can make up the numbers. But, taking advantage of the bad blood between the two saffron allies and the growing closeness between the Sena and the Congress-NCP in Maharashtra, it is not impossible that the Sena might just be preparing for a hat-trick in this regard, simply to embarrass the Modi government at the Centre.
Which is why the Union government had to give in to the Sena’s demand to withdraw the flying ban against party MP Ravindra Gaikwad, who beat up an Air India employee and even boasted about it with a large dose of chest-thumping, and was unapologetic to the end. Both the government and the airlines were treading the right path on the issue until the BJP got tripped by its concerns over the presidential polls – every vote counts and that is why the party has so far not allowed either Yogi Adityanath or Manohar Parrikar — who were recently sworn in as chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh and Goa respectively — to formally quit their parliamentary seats yet, as it will take them time to get elected to the legislatures in their states.
They have not yet forgotten that the NDA government led by Atal Behari Vajpayee lost a vote of confidence by just one vote, which could easily have been that of Girdhar Gamang, then Orissa chief minister, who had not resigned his Lok Sabha seat and participated in the vote. But, even the Shiv Sena had contributed to that single-vote defeat — party MP Mohan Rawle, who was Bal Thackeray’s bodyguard before being elected to the Lok Sabha, was missing in the House. He later resurfaced at a hospital miles from Bombay and Delhi saying he had to admit himself to treat his exhaustion and dehydration. The jury is still out on whether that absence was orchestrated by the party or if Rawle had been lured by the then Opposition (read Sharad Pawar) without the knowledge of Bal Thackeray — a great friend of Pawar’s. For just a few years later, Thackeray helped to elect the latter’s daughter, Supriya Sule, to the Rajya Sabha by refusing to support the BJP candidate who had to withdraw to avoid the embarrassment of a defeat.
At the best of times, then, the Shiv Sena has not played ball with the BJP. There is nothing to indicate it will do so now.