Opinion: Heads the Shiv Sena wins, tails it does not really lose
Even at the peak of the Ram temple issue Pandharpur had stayed calm and unimpressed, giving not much quarter to the saffron forces. So why should now be any different?Updated: Dec 26, 2018, 10:14 IST
As electoral issues go, the Ram temple campaign of the BJP seems to have fallen by the wayside. On November 25, when the Vishwa Hindu Parishad held a Dharma Sabha in Ayodhya, they failed to enthuse even the saffron-robed sants and seers of the temple town. For two weeks then they attempted to provoke the Muslim minorities in Delhi waving saffron flags at them, muscling their way into their bastis with cries of Jai Shri Ram and later threatened the Jama Masjid with demolition. On neither occasion did any of the minorities react. So with both consolidation among the Hindus and polarisation among Muslims having failed the Sangh Parivar, why does Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray think he will have better luck with Hindutva?
After challenging the BJP on its home turf in Ayodhya, on Monday the Shiv Sena gathered in Maharashtra’s temple town of Pandharpur to demand the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, but I wonder if that demand really resonated with the Maharashtrian masses.
Admittedly, Pandharpur is the most hallowed ground in terms of Vithoba worship in the state but though Lord Ram may be an avatar of Lord Vishnu, the rich warkari tradition of Pandharpur is not as sectarian or narrow as the Hindutva forces would want to position their own temple issue across the country.
Even at the peak of the Ram temple issue Pandharpur had stayed calm and unimpressed, giving not much quarter to the saffron forces. So why should now be any different?
Uddhav’s next stop on the Hindutva circuit is likely to be Varanasi, the holiest of Hindu pilgrimage centres, now the Lok Sabha constituency of Narendra Modi.
By most accounts, opposition parties in Uttar Pradesh are likely to gang up against the BJP here at the 2019 elections and if the voters of Varanasi are indeed disappointed with the ruling party, its alliance partner is unlikely to get even a look-in, I should think.
However as Uddhav relentlessly keeps up the rhetoric against the BJP – in Pandharpur he even picked up Congress president Rahul Gandhi ‘s resonating personal sloganeering against Modi on the Rafale deal – I am beginning to be convinced that, much like the BJP, the Shiv Sena too has peaked and run out of issues. The regional vote has lost much of its lustre and despite occupying the opposition space while still being in government, today, much of that non-Hindutva space is firmly with Gandhi and other parties who may form the Mahagatbandhan before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
However, Uddhav may have secured even before the elections what he professed never to want or desire – an alliance with the BJP and, most importantly, an upper hand in the alliance. Given the manner in which the BJP has already conceded many of its own sitting MPs’ seats to parties in Bihar who have less of a standing in their home state than the Sena has in Maharashtra, I believe it is now Uddhav’s choice whether it goes in for an alliance with the BJP or not.
And, if it does, there is nothing to stop him from demanding not just all the 18 seats held by the Shiv Sena. but push for a half-and-half division of the total number of seats in the state.
For the BJP that is likely to be a battle lost even before it has won, for now not allying with the Sena also poses the danger of the latter denting its core Hindutva vote at a time when it has not much else to write home about.
I believe Uddhav knows well enough that Hindutva may be a no-show for his party as well but he is simply not beyond having some fun at the BJP’s expense.
For it is one thing to hope that the next chief minister of Maharashtra will be a Shiv Sainik but quite ridiculous and fantastic to claim that the next prime minister of India will be from his party.
Given their lack of humour, that might have left BJP leaders grinding their teeth. Uddhav and the Shiv Sena seem to have positioned themselves into the best corner for the electoral game.
Denting the BJP’s tally would be a good enough show, If they fail to maximise their own seats they did not have much of a stake anyway. So heads they win, tails they do not really lose.
It is a unique political position not many parties can risk in the current scenario.