Game, set and match for Shiv Sena?
Although the Sena may come around and work out an arrangement with the BJP, the latter is doing itself no favour by allowing both its desperation and its arrogance get the better of itUpdated: Jan 09, 2019 00:44 IST
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) needs to draw lessons from its past in seeking alliances and keeping friends. When it comes to the Shiv Sena, you do not dictate terms to the party and hope the tiger will crawl towards you to lick the crumbs off your hand — it is more likely to bite off that hand. The older generation of BJP leaders, similarly arrogant in their belief that the Sena had no alternative but to ally with them, were brought to grief by Bal Thackeray. His son Uddhav Thackeray is proving to be a chip off the old block and may similarly paint the BJP into a corner where it will have no alternative but to eat the humble pie. Or be prepared to suffer extensive damages in the coming elections.
Much as party president Amit Shah might say that the Sena will not win more than two seats in the Lok Sabha without the BJP, the fact remains that the BJP, which has lost ten allies over the past four years — the latest being the Asom Gana Parishad of Assam — is in more dire straits and its desperation is showing. Parliamentary elections were never of great importance to the Shiv Sena and while it could be content with just a handful of seats in the Lok Sabha, the BJP stands to be decimated without the Sena to bolster its standing among the people of Maharashtra.
Although I believe the Sena will come around and work out an arrangement with the BJP, the latter is doing itself no favour by allowing both its desperation and its arrogance get the better of it. Bal Thackeray had mocked the party led by LK Advani and Atal Behari Vajpayee as ‘Kamlabai’ when they had thought they could bully the Sena tiger into conceding more seats to them — they had not even thought of breaking off the alliance at the time. But when Balasaheb told a public meeting that he had decided to teach ‘Kamlabai’ a lesson by booting her out of his employment, the BJP hastily backtracked and all its leaders, including Advani, went down on their knees to him. He relented only after Vajpayee had come calling at his door.
Now it is Uddhav’s turn to mock the party as the ‘Gujarat BJP’, clearly underlining the growing factionalism within the party where Shah and Narendra Modi are now being opposed by more and more people within their own ranks and need to get and hold on to every friend they can.
I suspect Uddhav is working towards his pound of flesh — getting the Gujarat duo to personally come to his doorstep begging for the alliance before he concedes. However, it was easier for the humbler Vajpayee, who had already been a prime minister, to make amends with Bal Thackeray. It is not Modi’s style or perhaps even Shah’s, to go down on their knees to anyone and the Sena now seems unlikely to negotiate terms with the local BJP leadership.
The older set-up had a master negotiator like Pramod Mahajan who could always be relied upon to pacify Bal Thackeray and bring him around. In fact, when Thackeray feigned illness after his decision to teach ‘Kamlabai’ a lesson and even refused to meet Advani, it was Mahajan’s gamble to bring Vajpayee to Matoshree — Thackeray would have seemed churlish and ceaseless had he turned a former prime minister from his door. The local BJP has no leader of Mahajan’s resources now and the only man who might pull off the alliance with least embarrassment to all is Union minister Nitin Gadkari. But apart from the fact that he thinks even less of Uddhav and does not have the same level of comfort that Mahajan had with Bal Thackeray, the growing estrangement between him and Modi — they have not been on talking terms for months, I am told — is unlikely to help the situation get any better.
It seems a bit of poetic justice somehow that the party that was willing to kick its oldest, most loyal and ideologically compatible ally in the teeth barely four years ago (during the 2014 assembly elections), should now find itself desperately seeking an alliance with the Shiv Sena. But it is also a measure of the party’s disconnect with its allies, that it is unable to cajole or persuade its oldest friend and feels the need to wield sticks and threats to enforce that friendship.
So far, it is game and set to the Shiv Sena. Whether or not it wins the match remains to be seen.
First Published: Jan 09, 2019 00:42 IST