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Things come full circle for Shiv Sena and the BJP

After keeping the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on tenterhooks for months, he has done better than his more charismatic father Bal Thackeray ever did, and extracted a better deal for the Shiv Sena than the BJP would have been willing to concede

mumbai Updated: Feb 19, 2019 23:07 IST
Sujata Anandan
Sujata Anandan
Hindustan Times
Shiv Sena,BJP,uddhav
One must learn from Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray how to have one’s cake and eat it too(ht)

Like I have always insisted, one must learn from Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray how to have one’s cake and eat it too. After keeping the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on tenterhooks for months, he has done better than his more charismatic father Bal Thackeray ever did, and extracted a better deal for the Shiv Sena than the BJP would have been willing to concede — now or in past years when there was more rapport between leaders of the two parties. The BJP has had to apply all the principles of saam, daam, dand, and bhed to the relationship, and yet give up its Big Brother position in both the state and the Centre to bring the Shiv Sena around to accept an alliance where it is now an equal partner with the BJP in every which way.

The alliance, however, though now patterned on that between the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party, is unlikely to be the seamless integration of two similar ideological forces as in the past. Notwithstanding Uddhav Thackeray’s return to Hindutva and BJP president Amit Shah’s happy acknowledgment of the same, there is still much to divide the two parties.

For example, across local self-government bodies where the Shiv Sena is the main opposition to the BJP, having fought those elections on separate wickets, Shiv Sainiks are already feeling restless about losing their stock with their voters. The Marathi-Gujarati divide that prevailed at the past elections too, is unlikely to be bridged in a hurry and, once again, while the BJP hopes to ride piggyback on the Shiv Sena, it might take Uddhav some convincing of his voters why he called Narendra Modi despicable names and yet aligned with the very party he was blaming over the past five years for getting every policy wrong in the country.

But while the alliance is now being judged as a desperate climb down by the BJP, I suspect, for all their strongman images, both Modi and Shah have blinked first.

Faced with the loss of NDA allies in more than one state, and despite going in for a ‘milavat’ after mocking the ‘mahamilavat’ of the non-saffron parties, I wonder if they could have stared down the Shiv Sena with a little more patience and less desperation. For, despite his intransigence, Uddhav Thackeray was under pressure from the bulk of his sitting MPs to reconsider the decision to go solo as they were afraid they had nothing to write home about and could lose the coming polls sans an alliance with the BJP. Many reports and surveys have been trickling in over the past weeks, placing the Shiv Sena behind the Congress and the NCP in the electoral sweepstakes if the four parties fought separately.

The Congress, according to the surveys, is neck to neck with the BJP but, in view of its alliance with the NCP, stood at an advantage in most constituencies. This is a departure from the late 1990s when Sharad Pawar split the Congress months before the Assembly elections yet faced the ignominy of the Congress leading all parties in the numbers game.

The Sena was then second in alliance with the BJP which came in fourth behind even the newly-formed NCP. It cost the saffron allies a government in Maharashtra and kept them out of the reckoning for a decade and a half after that defeat.

Clearly, the BJP has more at stake this time around but I believe the Shiv Sena too, had little choice in view of the fact that the Centre smartly decided not to advance the Assembly elections in Maharashtra. Even if his party MPs had not defected en masse to the BJP, losing the bulk of his sitting MP’s seats in May would have impacted the Assembly elections in October, accomplishing for the BJP, what it could not by breaking off the alliance with the party five years ago.

However, things in politics, as in life, have a way of coming around and leaving one with a sense of dèja vu. During Bal Thackeray’s lifetime, strong leaders like LK Advani thought they could stare him down and render him the junior partner of the alliance. Thackeray decided to go for broke and teach “Kamalabai” (a not-so-oblique reference to the BJP’s party symbol) a lesson. It brought Atal Bihari Vajpayee hotfooting it to Matoshree and a satisfied Thackeray relented, managing to get a few more seats out of the BJP.

Two decades later, his son is lapping up the cream all over again!

First Published: Feb 19, 2019 23:07 IST