The power shift behind Amit Shah-Uddhav Thackeray handshake
Uddhav Thackeray must be elated now that BJP president Amit Shah will be dropping by to meet him on Thursday night. The Shiv Sena, be sure, will lay out the red carpet for Shah.
Party leaders will happily pose for photographs. In the excitement of hosting a national leader, the Thackerays and their party will prefer to forget that this was the man they taunted less than 24 hours earlier for his decision to not meet Uddhav during his Mumbai visit.
Posters in strategic parts of Mumbai and social media memes taunted Shah on Wednesday. “Shahana Ho,” (be wise) they warned, attempting a pun on the BJP president’s name.
Stray workers planned “action”, Sena style. Back channel efforts finally ensured that Shah fitted in a meeting with the Sena president into his schedule.
Sena workers took umbrage that Shah had not scheduled an appointment with Uddhav or a visit to Matoshree, the Thackerays’ Bandra bungalow, because such visits had become de rigueur between the allies.
BJP stalwarts such as AB Vajpayee and LK Advani used to call on the late Bal Thackeray here. The courtesy soon turned into a norm but it was more than that; it was also the signal of the Sena's power and authority in the alliance forged in 1988-89.
In turning the non-meeting or meeting into an issue, the Shiv Sena may have missed the woods for the trees but who is to tell Uddhav that? The fracas over the meeting was typical Sena-style bluster, focusing on the ceremonial stuff instead of core issues.
The party should be more worried about the BJP’s consistent demand to equally divide the 288 seats in Maharashtra assembly. For the BJP, the demand is logical, going by the percentage of seats won in the last few elections.
This means junking the formula of 171 and 117 seats to the Sena and BJP respectively, which was a key indicator of the Sena’s dominance in the alliance.
But the power has shifted, most decisively so in the general election this year when the BJP, riding on the Narendra Modi wave, won more seats than its ally and also had a better strike rate (number of seats won to number contested).
The BJP has also had a superior strike rate to the Sena in the last five assembly elections, nearly 47% to the Sena’s 36%, as data analysis shows.
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It is clear, given the logic and its new-found belligerence, that the BJP will not settle for anything less than the leadership role in the alliance, and therefore a shot at having its chief minister in Maharashtra in the next two months.
Contesting 144 seats is part of its grand plan.
The Sena’s response, so far, has been to talk tough, flex muscle or invoke the late Thackeray’s relationship with BJP’s former leaders.
Neither Shah nor state BJP leaders are impressed or nervous. The BJP needs the Sena, no doubt, but is positioning itself to lead the alliance. The courtesy call this time is from a position of strength and leadership.
The Sena, especially the coterie that feeds political strategy to Uddhav, would do well to remember that the ground has shifted; the altered reality is that the BJP is in command and is better equipped to call the shots in this assembly election.
It has a strategy in place and has assiduously – even cynically – put its plans into action, irrespective of the social cost incurred.
The Sena’s manufactured crisis over Shah’s itinerary hardly served any purpose. Shah is in Mumbai to do what party chiefs are wont to: meet core committee members and state leaders, address party workers, visit a few public spots for the mandatory photo-ops and posture about the party’s winnability.
His meeting Uddhav is unlikely to change the BJP’s all-out battle for Maharashtra.
Uddhav should have compelling arguments to deny Shah the equal division of 288 seats. Else, the meeting does not really matter. Shah’s visit will be a courtesy call that will assuage the egos of the Thackerays and their loyal followers; it’s unlikely to lower the battle cry of the BJP to lead the next government in Maharashtra.