How the BJP became the Sena’s senior partner | Analysis
The upcoming Maharashtra election is about the leadership of Fadnavis and his development initiativeUpdated: Oct 10, 2019 06:42 IST
If a political observer had predicted in 2013 the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the singular pole of Maharashtra politics by 2019, she would have been summarily dismissed by opinion makers of that time. With the Maharashtra assembly elections just round the corner, it appears that the BJP has put paid that perception even before the first vote is polled.
Maharashtra’s politics had never been welcoming to the BJP, despite a promising Lok Sabha performance in 1989. The party was in the fray with an electoral understanding with the Janata Dal, and the two parties won 15 seats between them. Ten of these seats were won by the BJP. By 1991, however, the party’s seat tally was cut by half. Further, the Shiv Sena established itself as an indomitable political force in the early ’90s, in the wake of the Mumbai blasts.
By the time the Shiv Sena won a historic mandate in 1995 to govern Maharashtra alongside the BJP, the latter had already ceded the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) leadership to the Sena. Even with a great 1996 Lok Sabha performance, where the BJP won 18 seats and the Sena won 15, the party had resigned itself to the role of junior partner.
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This was driven by the towering presence of Balasaheb Thackeray, which the BJP was in no position to match, let alone counter. Thackeray remained the father-figure in the Hindutva political pantheon for a couple of decades, and the BJP’s Maharashtra leadership was content to play second fiddle.
Things started to change for the BJP from 2014 onwards. The Lok Sabha elections saw the BJP winning 23 seats, the Sena 18, and the local ally Swabhimani Paksha one. A more assertive BJP decided to challenge the Sena for regional supremacy. The first step was the party going it alone into the Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha polls in October 2014.
Though the two came together in a post-poll alliance, the last five years have been transformational in Maharashtra politics. Four things have changed significantly, if not irrevocably.
First, chief minister (CM) Devendra Fadnavis has created a pro-development, relatable urban image for himself. That a BJP leader could do this in a state controlled by veterans like Thackeray and Sharad Pawar earlier is admirable. Fadnavis is set to become the first CM since Vasantrao Naik in 1972 to complete the full five-year term. The upcoming elections are very much a vote on his work and his image, and, as his Maha Janadesh Yatra shows, he has not shied away from putting his neck on the line.
Second, the BJP has dislodged the Sena’s pre-eminent position in the National Democratic Alliance in the state. While the party is contesting on 150 seats in the state election, the Sena will contest 124. The remaining 14 seats will be contested by the smaller allies, but several of them may choose to contest on the BJP’s symbol. In 2014, the Sena had refused to give half the seats in the assembly – 144 – to BJP, looking to retain pole position. It is more realistic five years later.
Third, the two principal opposition parties — the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) — are fighting for survival. From ruling the state with an iron fist through the 2000s to now being unable to find candidates to contest, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) partners are fighting an uphill battle. They have been blindsided by the speed at which the BJP has consolidated its position in the state. Key leaders of both parties, including those who served as the leader of opposition, members of Parliament, district chiefs and countless Members of Legislative Assembly have made a beeline to join either the BJP or the Shiv Sena. All CM aspirants from Congress and the NCP will contest the election with a singular objective – to save their own seat first.
Fourth, the state has moved away from caste-led politics, at least for now. This may well be a blip on the radar in a state riddled with social schisms,feudal and caste patronage politics. However, Fadnavis has, at least temporarily, moved the needle away from the importance of caste to the indispensability of the development narrative. He has adopted the national Narendra Modi playbook to great effect.
These changes have, of course, come at some cost. Leaders like Ganesh Naik and Narayan Rane — anathema to the BJP and the Shiv Sena in the past — now stand shoulder to shoulder with the NDA. Some imported candidates have been in a hurry to delete their past tweets on Veer Savarkar and Narendra Modi, in order to fit in with the new dispensation. Will the new imports carve out their own path or will the party’s double juggernaut of nationalism and development tame them.
For now, the vote on October 21 is clearly about the leadership of Fadnavis, his acceptability as the CM and the double engine Narendra-Devendra narrative.This is likely to influence the outcome on October 24.
First Published: Oct 09, 2019 18:32 IST