For the Shiv Sena, it’s been two long and turbulent years since the death of its patriarch Bal Thackeray.
From ugly public spats with Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray, to winning 18 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, to the end of the 25-year-old alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the party has witnessed a whirlwind of events and emotions.
Now, on Bal Thackeray’s second death anniversary, the party stands at the crossroads.
Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray faces an uncertain future after losing his ‘big brother’ position to the BJP, following the latter’s unprecedented success in the Assembly elections.
His habit of swinging like a pendulum between power and pride has dampened the spirit of Sainiks, accustomed to the ways of the senior Thackeray – a commander and firm decision-maker.
The 25-year-old BJP-Sena alliance broke after a bitter standoff on seat sharing. Now, the two have locked horns over sharing power in the Maharashtra Assembly.
Uddhav is torn between two options. He either joins the BJP on his terms – where he compromises on the number of ministries and postings – or goes it alone, upsetting senior Sena leaders in the process and possibly leading to defection, the ripples of which will be felt in municipal bodies. Sena shares power with the BJP in 12 municipal bodies across the state.
Leaders close to Uddhav feel he isn’t in any mood to compromise as the cracks between the two parties are too wide. On the other hand, Uddhav doesn’t have much of an option, which leaves him looking like an indecisive leader.
“We have come so close to power that we should let go of the chance. If we stay in power, we can come back, else we will lose everything. How can we sit in the Opposition and talk against a party which we are allied with at the Centre,” said a senior legislator, who is hoping that the Sena gets at least 10 ministries in the expansion expected to take place around November 20.
The blow hot, blow cold relationship with the BJP began following the death of Bal Thackeray. The BJP started treating the Sena differently since the event. Before the Lok Sabha polls this year, BJP’s Nitin Gadkari tried to cosy up to MNS chief Raj Thackeray, asking him to abstain from elections to avoid division of Marathi votes. This irked Uddhav.
Matters only got worse after the Lok Sabha polls results, when the BJP claimed that the Sena’s victories in 18 of the 21 seats it contested was on account of the Modi wave.
Uddhav also felt humiliated on being allotted just one Union Cabinet berth, and too a comparatively insignificant portfolio. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not relent.
BJP leaders feel the root of the problem is that the two parties do share informal relations any more. “The informal relationship was present when Balasaheb was around. He was a tall leader and astute politician but was never adamant,” said a senior BJP leader.
The BJP feels that power-sharing talks have been hampered by Uddhav’s stubbornness, first on contesting 151 Assembly seats which caused the alliance to split, and now on plum posts.
Sainiks are missing the late party supremo more than ever before. “Everyone is saying that he should have been around.To say that Maharashtra politics went back by 20 years after his death is not an exaggeration. He had a great spirit. He would not only have had a grand celebration after winning 63 seats, but would have made BJP feel small for all their acts of selfishness. His self-confidence was his strength. He would have got back to the people and started working,” says MP Sanjay Raut who was also Bal Thackeray’s close confidante.
Political experts feel the best way ahead for Uddhav is to take a final, calculated decision and trust his gut feeling.
“If Uddhav wants to survive he needs to assert himself, take firm stances. If he decides to break away, he should walk out of the NDA, fight on real issues, realign with parties like the MNS,” said political analyst Prakash Bal.
Political expert B Venkatesh Kumar feels that Uddhav’s flip-flops are hurting the party and pushing it into a corner. “I would imagine that Modi would have been more reverent and softer had Balasaheb been alive. Uddhav’s flip-flopping is going to damage the Sena, and they might lose the existing ground. He needs to think long term,” says Kumar.
At the end of the day, Uddhav needs to realise that he is the leader of a party which has a dedicated cadre, which can take to the streets on a single call, something which no other party in Maharashtra, not even the BJP, can boast of. And this is the strength he needs to believe in and walk with as he seeks to tide over this difficult phase.