In a sign of the rising hostilities between alliance partners, an angry Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray sought to make a political statement on Saturday by snubbing a last-minute invitation by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to attend twin ground-laying functions in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s presence on Sunday.
Indicating the ice-cold relations that he shares with Modi, Thackeray decided to go ahead with his tour of the drought-hit Beed district and distribute aid to farmers. The BJP, which had till Saturday refused to officially invite Thackeray to the functions, performed a U-turn and dispatched state housing minister Prakash Mehta to invite Thackeray on Saturday evening.
For Thackeray, however, the invite came too late. While he maintained silence on the issue, a close aide said, “They (BJP) think they can extend a last-minute invitation and our party chief will be bullied into attending the event? The Sena doesn’t care much about such invitations and the BJP must know that.”
Sena minister Ramdas Kadam also said the invitation came too late. “Thackeray had already planned to go to Beed and distribute financial relief among farmers. This is a very important cause for the party and we can’t go back on it,” he said.
BJP state chief Raosaheb Danve on Saturday made it clear just how much importance the party gave to the Sena. Danve said that he and chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had personally telephoned and invited smaller allies such as Ramdas Athavale, Mahadeo Jankar and Raju Shetti.
When asked about Thackeray’s exclusion from the list, said, “The CM has decided to depute Mehta to invite him personally,” refusing to explain why no personal call was made to the BJP’s oldest ally.
Sena insiders said the insult was would not be taken lying down. While the fallout could ultimately affect the government, a Sena leader said the more immediate repercussions will be on the two parties’ alliance discussions about next month’s Kalyan-Dombivli municipal polls. The seat-sharing talks in Kalyan-Dombivli are not going anywhere, with both parties insisting on larger share of seats. Sena leaders are also angry that the BJP is trying to take all the credit for the Dr Ambedkar memorial and the launch of the new metro projects.
The events of the past two days mean that relations between the Sena and BJP, already frosty, may reach new heights of hostility. The Sena believes that the BJP made it abundantly clear that they didn’t want Thackeray to share the dais with Modi, whom he had once likened to Afzal Khan, the Mughal army general who tried to assassinate Shivaji.
Modi’s ascent has coincided with a deteriorating relationship with the post-Bal Thackeray Sena, a fact that has not gone unnoticed at Matoshree. Thackeray has been vocal about his criticism of Modi and has often sought to make things difficult for the Modi government by criticising its functioning. When the BJP was vanquished in the Delhi assembly polls, Thackeray had added to the insult in by saying that the support for Kejriwal was akin to a tsunami, which was bigger than the Modi ‘wave’ in the general elections.