Hot and cold: Decoding the Shiv Sena’s rocky relationship with the BJP in Maharashtra
Mumbai city news: Party won’t cooperate with its ally, but fear of defections, poor poll results ensure it won’t leave govtmumbai Updated: Jul 03, 2017 10:54 IST
A few days ago, Congress legislator Nitesh Rane’s tongue-in-cheek letter asking that the Shiv Sena be granted a Guinness World Record for threatening to withdraw support to the government the most number of times went viral, eliciting laughter online.
While the virtual world moved on after a few giggles, the Shiv Sena’s constant jibes at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Maharashtra government continue.
After ties between the two parties snapped at the civic level, the Shiv Sena’s reluctance to cooperate is proving to be a headache for the BJP.
However, the Shiv Sena is unlikely to execute its threats anytime soon, for several reasons.
Analysts said the environment may not be politically conducive to either of the parties facing Assembly polls, owing to widespread resentment among farmers amid bleak state finances. Though the Shiv Sena backed the recent farmers’ agitation, taking to the streets in protest against its own government, it is unlikely to reap the political benefits of such a move.
“The Shiv Sena has taken up farmers’ issues in the past too, but this has not helped the party. It lacks formidable rural leaders, who are significant at the state level. The BJP and Congress have found such leaders in Eknath Khadse and Ashok Chavan,” said political analyst Surendra Jondhale.
Poll results for 212 municipal councils and nagar panchayats, 25 Zilla Parishads, and 10 municipal corporations over the past eight months have not been encouraging for the Shiv Sena.
While the BJP’s lotus was in full bloom, the Sena’s tiger could barely let out a whimper, with the party finishing fourth in terms of its total tally in the municipal council and zilla parishad polls. Of 10 municipal corporations, the BJP won eight. It came second to the Shiv Sena in Mumbai, securing just two seats fewer than the party.
“We don’t have enought resources to launch a campaign as of now. The BJP has resources and power, and is actively breaking our cadre at the grassroots level. Being in the government has not helped us. We can’t talk about how much we have helped the people,” said a Shiv Sena legislator from Marathwada.
Analysts say the party’s core leadership is cautious about upsetting a few leaders who want to be in power. There are worries that walking out of the government might cause high-profile defections.
“The Shiv Sena was out of power for 15 years. Even after it was beaten by the BJP in 2014, a major faction in the Shiv Sena was rooting for power, while the core Shiv Sainiks just wanted to teach the BJP a lesson. The Shiv Sena is under immense pressure, amid fears that members who want power may defect to the BJP,” said political analyst Prakash Bal.
Meanwhile, the Shiv Sena has been consciously maintaining a blow hot, blow cold strategy with the BJP. Analysts said this helps the party pander to the group that thinks it is politically advantageous to be in power, while keeping core Shiv Sainiks, who form the party’s real strength, happy with anti-BJP diatribes.
This also helps the party to maintain a separate identity while being part of the government. “It is likely that the BJP and we will contest elections separately. As such, we need to remind the people that we are different and that we always raise our voice in their interest,” said a key Sena leader.
Shiv Sena ministers said they were satisfied with the Devendra Fadnavis-led government’s farm loan waiver scheme, after repeated demands for a complete, unconditional loan waiver. Two days later, party chief Uddhav Thackeray made more demands, asking for a list of the 40 lakh farmers whose loans would be waived completely.
In front of a throng of Sainiks, Thackeray questioned the BJP’s decision to pick Dalit Ram Nath Kovind as a presidential candidate, terming it “vote-bank politics”. The next day, he gave the party’s wholehearted support to Kovind.
Similarly, the day Thackeray met BJP president Amit Shah the Sena gave the BJP the impression that all crinkles between the allies had been ironed out. However, at the Sena’s 51st foundation day function the next day, Thackeray’s challenge to the BJP, asking it to call for mid-term polls was met by thunderous applause.
“More than 70% of party workers feel that it is better to step out of the government and be an active Opposition. They think only BJP members were given main portfolios, while Sena ministers don’t have a voice,” said Shiv Sena legislator Pratap Sarnaik.
However, he said only Thackeray can take a final call on the alliance between the parties.“Uddhavsaheb has his reasons for why we should continue in the government. We will do as he says,” Sarnaik added.