If the Sena rejects crumbs, will the BJP eat the humble pie?

Embracing Hindutva again also means the Sena knows it has finally lost the Muslim vote it had so assiduously built up after the riots of 1992-93

mumbai Updated: Nov 28, 2018 00:49 IST
Sujata Anandan
Sujata Anandan
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Shiv Sena,BJP
So Uddhav, whatever his earlier statements, is clearly heading towards an alliance with the BJP in 2019.(HT FILE)

As the dharma sabha organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in Ayodhya ended up in a damp squib and the Shiv Sena did not succeed in shooting too many arrows either, people wondered why the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was making such a happy fuss of the presence of Uddhav and Aaditya Thackeray in Uttar Pradesh.

After all, they were leaders of the same party that have routinely beaten up North Indians in Bombay simply for seeking a living here and much of the BJP’s voter base is in the Hindi-speaking belt of India.

It is true that both the national president of the BJP Amit Shah and its state president Raosaheb Danve were particularly delighted that Uddhav, who has routinely been insulting them, chose to go to Ayodhya, where he described the BJP’s Ram temple promise as another jumla. But it is a measure of the desperation of both the BJP and the Sena that the former should be so happy at Uddhav’s unfriendly visit to Ayodhya and the latter should fall back on the Ram temple issue after having gained much by eschewing Hindutva over the years.

There is an element of dèja vu here. Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray had a very successful run in the 1960s and 1970s on the regional Marathi manoos card; playing them against the rich job-providing Gujaratis and the highly-educated middle-class South Indians who grabbed all those jobs. But once seeking justice for the locals was done with, Sena began to suffer from a dearth of issues and jumped on Hindutva in the early 1980s, even ahead of the BJP’s discovery of the Ram temple issue as an electoral platform.

Together, the Sena and the BJP stormed to power on the Hindutva plank in Maharashtra in 1995 but almost the first statement made by Bal Thackeray at their victory rally was his intention to deprive migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar of ration cards to stop them settling in the metropolis. With a general election due the next year, the BJP discovered that they were in danger of losing their north Indian vote not just in Maharashtra but in UP and Bihar as well as most voters in those states had relatives settled in the state capital. Treating them as pariahs while wooing their relatives in the north, smacked of a duplicity not appreciated by the people.

I recall Pramod Mahajan making hasty tracks to Matoshree, seeking desperately to get a stubborn Bal Thackeray to withdraw his statement. Which is why it seems funny that the BJP should now be so welcoming of the Thackerays’ visit to Ayodhya despite their troubled relationship, past and present.

However, the BJP seems to have correctly read the reason for Uddhav embracing the temple issue even if he is lamming the BJP for abandoning it. In 2014, despite dumping the Shiv Sena days before the assembly elections, there was polarisation between Maharashtrians and Gujaratis that gave Uddhav more numbers in the assembly than his father ever had at the peak of the Shiv Sena’s powers. Now, though there is a general disappointment with both the BJP and the Sena and Uddhav’s visit to Ayodhya means he has burnt behind him the bridges he was attempting to build with the other parties in Maharashtra.

Embracing Hindutva again also means the Sena knows it has finally lost the Muslim vote it had so assiduously built up after the riots of 1992-93 when Thackeray had called for a secular monument like a school or a hospital in Ayodhya on the disputed site instead of a temple or a mosque.

So Uddhav, whatever his earlier statements, is clearly heading towards an alliance with the BJP in 2019. With most BJP allies falling off and even rag-tag alliances of the other parties, including former BJP allies like Kumaraswamy in Karnataka and Mehbooba Mufti in Jammu and Kashmir, succeeding in keeping the BJP at bay, the party now is left with little option but to welcome, in its larger interest, the Shiv Sena with open arms — to UP and to an alliance — even if it means swallowing its insults with a smile and a warm handshake.

However, even though the outcome seems clear, it remains to be seen who blinks first. Uddhav is not likely to accept meekly the crumbs the BJP might want to restrict the Shiv Sena to. The BJP might have to eat more humble pie than it cares to. Should be an interesting battle ahead.

First Published: Nov 28, 2018 00:49 IST