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BJP-Sena: Together until 2019 elections do them apart

Sources in both the parties said both the warring allies do not want mid-term polls, which could be likely if the Sena pulls out of the BJP government

mumbai Updated: Jan 24, 2018 23:35 IST
Ketaki Ghoge
Ketaki Ghoge
Hindustan Times
BJP,Shiv Sena,Lok Sabha polls
Sena’s top brass is biding time until the elections get announced or a few months before that to walk out.

Last Sunday, Shiv Sena party chief Uddhav Thackeray and chief minister Devendra Fadnavis inaugurated new Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSTRC) buses together, giving shutterbugs a photo op to capture the bonhomie between the two at the function.

Two days later, at the national executive meet rally on Tuesday, Thackeray hollered that his party had enough and would contest the upcoming 2019 Lok Sabha and Assembly polls solo without its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In his address, on expected lines, he took a swipe at the BJP government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Over the past one-and-a-half years, the Sena has more than a couple of times – most memorable being ahead of the Mumbai civic polls - threatened to ditch the saffron alliance. However, after public meltdowns and acrimonious electoral campaigns, the party has remained a partner in the state and the Central government. It is not just the Sena whose bark is worse than its bite. The BJP has allowed the Sena a long rope by ignoring trenchant criticism (many times worse than the Opposition) against its own government besides Modi and its senior leadership.

So what political compulsions force the two parties to stay in a very unhappy alliance?

Sources in both the parties said both the warring allies do not want mid-term polls, which could be likely if the Sena pulls out of the BJP government. While Thackeray is worried about his party getting split by the BJP, the latter no longer thinks Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) will step in to support the BJP at this stage, like it did in 2014.

“The Fadnavis-led government has not been impacted even marginally by the Sena’s public tantrums. In the government, Sena ministers have never created hurdles for us or even opposed our policies or projects. The Sena’s criticism does have an impact on public perception of our government, which is not good. But that’s no reason to not complete our full-term in government. We need time to showcase work done by us if we are to get the next term,’’ said a close aide of Fadnavis.

He said instead of getting entangled in early polls or political machinations at this stage by poaching other legislators, the general opinion in the party was to tolerate the Sena for some more time.

Sena’s top brass is biding time until the elections get announced or a few months before that to walk out. “This announcement is a way to begin preparations for polls, it sends a signal to the cadre. Any possibility of a pre-poll alliance is now ruled out. But at this stage if we walk out we could lose legislators by the time the polls are announced,’’ said a senior Sena leader.

The Sena is also wary of the BJP using its political and government clout to pressurise the Thackerays.

The other factor that is likely to help the saffron allies to stay together albeit unhappily is the good relations shared by Thackeray and Fadnavis. The chief minister given his discomfort with the Nationalist Congress Party(NCP), has over the three years built a working relationship with Thackeray, besides cultivating his party’s senior ministers like Eknath Shinde and Subhash Desai.

“NCP chief Pawar does not like Fadnavis. The CM is also convinced Pawar’s hand is behind all the recent protests, including Maratha and farmers protests, to dislodge him. In the current scenario, we know Congress-NCP will form an alliance. There is also a chance the Sena may discreetly align with the Opposition to counter the BJP in the 2019 polls,’’ said a BJP party functionary.

He said if Fadnavis continues to have open communication channels with the Sena, a tacit understanding during the polls and post-poll alliance with the Thackerays is possible. As such, there is no need to burn bridges now. The BJP’s strategy with its ally and vice versa would also depend on the party’s performance in upcoming polls in Karnataka.

The party strategists believe that in a three-corner fight, the Sena stands to lose the most, while the NCP will gain in the bargain. The BJP is also confident of its chances in a majority of urban seats besides entire Vidarbha.

“Both BJP and Sena stand to lose if Congress and NCP fight polls together. It is now clear a pre-poll alliance between the saffron allies is not possible, but a post-poll alliance may still happen. The ground realities have forced them to stay together otherwise Thackeray should have walked out of the government today,’’ said political analyst Prakash Bal.

First Published: Jan 24, 2018 23:35 IST