BJP-Shiv Sena rift: Will Uddhav Thackeray’s gamble work?
The BJP knows that the Shiv Sena will not pull down the Maharashtra government immediately. This works in Devendra Fadnavis’ favour, as he is 23 MLAs short of a simple majority, and is not keen on support from Sharad Pawar’s NCPopinion Updated: Jan 24, 2018 18:10 IST
The Shiv Sena, an ally of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre, as well as in Maharashtra, announced on Tuesday that it will contest the 2019 elections on its own. It means the party won’t be part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). It has set a target of winning 25 (out of 48) Lok Sabha seats from Maharashtra and 150 (out of 288) assembly seats. Addressing his party’s national executive, where the formal decision was taken, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray also came down heavily on the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
This means the Shiv Sena doesn’t trust the BJP and Modi, and it has announced its intention to quit the NDA. By that logic, the party should quit the governments at the Centre and in Maharashtra. But that is yet to happen.
The BJP has reacted cautiously to the Sena’s announcements. While its leaders in Maharashtra said they are prepared to contest the polls solo if needed, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has said that his government will complete its full term. As far as the BJP is concerned, it knows the Sena will not pull down the government in Maharashtra immediately.
This works in Fadnavis’ favour, as he is 23 MLAs short of a simple majority in the assembly and is not keen on running his government with the support of Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The BJP’s state leaders also think that the Sena leadership is damaging its own credibility by criticising its ruling partner while continuing to be in that government.
The two parties were in alliance for two decades but parted ways over the issue of seat-sharing ahead of the 2014 assembly elections. The BJP increased its tally in Maharashtra from 42 in 2009 to 122. The Sena could win only 63 seats and thus lost the big brother’s role in the alliance. It had to settle for less significant portfolios in the ministries at the state as well as at the Centre.
The Sena leadership wielded influence in the NDA during the Vajpayee-Advani era but realised that the BJP under Amit Shah and Modi was different. The message was clear — it would have to play second fiddle. Little wonder then, as in the past three years, the Sena leadership has been uneasy and constantly criticising the BJP.
Significantly, the Sena relies on the BJP for power in the Mumbai civic body, which has been its source of power and strength for decades. It also wants power to keep its flock together — the decision of joining the Fadnavis government was partly out of fear of a split in the party. There was speculation that a sizeable section of Sena MLAs were in touch with Fadnavis and were willing to be a part of the government.
On the other hand, after reaching a saturation point in north India, the BJP is now looking at other places to win more Lok Sabha seats. Maharashtra has 48 seats and the BJP won 23 in 2014. Twenty seats were given to the Shiv Sena in a seat-sharing arrangement. Party strategists are now considering whether they can win more seats if they ditch the Sena and contest all 48 seats. In the assembly polls, the party won 122 seats on its own since it was not in an alliance with the Sena.
Both the parties know they won’t be able to work out an amicable seat-sharing agreement for the next assembly elections.
Knowing this well, Thackeray has tried to show how he was the one who decided to contest on his own. Thackeray’s strategy is aimed at combining Sena’s traditional votes with a chunk of the anti-BJP votes, which otherwise would go entirely to the Congress-NCP alliance. And this is something even the BJP won’t mind. It was clearly visible in municipal elections in cities like Mumbai and Thane where the two parties cornered most of the seats. The BJP also knows that the Sena won’t have much of an option for post-poll allies. It can either go with the BJP or NCP. The NCP’s policies will be decided by who is ruling at the Centre.
Nevertheless, Thackeray’s announcement has now set the tone for the next electoral battle in Maharashtra. Will his gamble work?