Why the Shiv Sena parted ways with the BJP in Maharashtra |Opinion
It had become the junior partner both electorally and ideologically. Splitting was essential to remain relevant
The Shiv Sena, the oldest ally of the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), surprised everyone by parting ways with the BJP after the assembly election results came out on October 24. On the face of it, the Sena had two key demands; the chief minister’s post, and a better deal in the power-sharing arrangement between the two parties. But at a deeper level, beyond the two demands, the Sena was concerned about two other issues.
One, Sena chief, Uddhav Thackeray, though mild-mannered, did not want to play second fiddle to the BJP in state politics. Two, he wanted to secure the future of his 29-year-old son, Aditya, who won from the Worli assembly constituency.
In Maharashtra politics, since the days of late Bal Thackeray, the Sena has never played the role of a junior partner. The National Congress Party (NCP) chief, Sharad Pawar’s Silver Oak residence, and Bal Thackeray’s Matoshree residence, have long been the two power centres in the state. But the Lok Sabha and the assembly polls of 2014, and the emergence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and BJP president, Amit Shah, shattered the old political matrix, pushing parties such as the Sena into a corner. After the 2014 assembly elections, the Sena got insignificant portfolios. The files of its ministers were routinely stalled or sent back with questions by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’s office.
Uddhav Thackeray also sensed that tying up with the BJP was not yielding him and his party the desired results. In 2014, the Sena went alone in the assembly polls and won 68 seats, while in the 2019 assembly polls, despite the alliance with the BJP, it could only win 56 seats. The Sena’s stature has been diminishing with every election, even as the BJP has increased its footprint in the state’s politics.
In 1995, the Sena won 73 seats, while the BJP won 65 in the 288-member assembly. The two parties joined hands to form the first saffron government in the state, and Sena’s Manohar Joshi became the chief minister. In 2009, the Sena won 44 seats while the BJP got 54. This was the turning point for the Sena. It not only lost the stature of big brother, but lost the post of the Leader of Opposition in the assembly. In the 2014 and 2019 assembly polls, the BJP won 122 and 105 seats respectively.
Since 2014, the BJP leadership also stopped visiting Matoshree as much as they did earlier. During Bal Thackeray’s time, no deal with the Sena would happen without a visit to Matoshree. This change hurt Uddhav Thackeray’s ego. During the post-mortem of the 2019 assembly election, Sena’s leaders found that the BJP had fielded party rebels against official candidates of the Sena — something which had damaged the latter. Before the Lok Sabha polls, the BJP had also poached many Sena leaders, though all senior leaders (Chandrakant Khaire, Shivaji Adalrao Patil, Vasant Gite) lost the Lok Sabha polls in 2019.
The dip in the Sena’s strength was not limited only to the assembly. The BJP has steadily been eating into the Sena’s vote bank in the local government structure also. In the 2017 Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls, the BJP and Sena fought separately, and the former was about to snatch the power from Sena in Asia’s richest civic body that has a budget of over ~35,000 crore. The Sena got 84 seats while the BJP got 82 seats. Contrast this with the previous BMC election of 2012. The Sena had then got 75 seats, and the BJP won 31 seats.
The 2017 BMC poll result was a warning to the Sena that if the BJP continued in power in the state and the Centre, then, one day, the Sena would have to cede power to the BJP in the BMC, the soul of the party. The Congress and the NCP are opponents of the Sena, but they always gave way to the Sena in the BMC polls. The Congress and NCP tactic was to let the Sena rule the BMC, while they presided over the state government.
At a more fundamental level, the BJP wanted to encroach into the Sena’s vote bank because both share the same ideology. Unless one goes down, the other will not grow. The BJP ran with the Sena’s Hindutva agenda, while the Marathi manoos agenda was taken over by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray.
All of this, put together, convinced the Sena that it had no option but to break the alliance with the BJP in order to secure its political future. The Sena was then waiting for the right opportunity.
After the assembly results, Sharad Pawar called up Uddhav Thackeray and convinced him, with facts and figures, that the Sena could not grow under the shadow of the BJP. For their part, NCP leaders feel that they are strong in rural Maharashtra while the Sena is strong in Mumbai and its peripheral urban pockets. If the Sena is with them, they together can stop the BJP and rule Maharashtra for several years.
The key question now is if the Sena’s calculations translate into a real, durable, political alliance or increase its power, or whether it turns counterproductive.