Shiv Sena's solo plan for 2019: BJP loses its natural friend in Maharashtra

The decision of the sulking Shiv Sena to go solo by parting ways with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for next year’s Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in Maharashtra has been in the making for long.

 

The move by the Sena will jolt the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the Centre and in Maharashtra, becoming the first major partner to give notice to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah that it is quitting.

 

The Sena is the oldest ideological ally of the BJP and their partnership has been for nearly 30 years from the Hindutva resurgence in the late 1980s. With 18 Lok Sabha members, the Sena is the second largest constituent of the NDA, after the BJP.

 

It sends the signal that politics in Maharashtra, electorally a key state for saffron parties, is set to change.

 

Uddhav Thackeray and his party have struck after drawing conclusions in the wake of the Gujarat electoral verdict, which did not exactly see the BJP coming out with flying colours on the Modi-Shah home turf. It was no surprise that Saamna, the Sena mouthpiece, praised Rahul Gandhi for the way he led the Congress’s charge in Gujarat.

 

No political observer believes that the parting will have any impact immediately, either at the Centre or in the state, as the Sena has been playing the politics of sharing power and also occupying the opposition space by targeting the BJP. There has been no word from the Sena on when it plans to pull out of the Centre and the Devendra Fadnavis government in the state. Party leaders merely say that their supremo would take an appropriate decision at an appropriate time. This means nothing. How much fire the Sena could have by remaining in the governments at the Centre and in Maharashtra is another question.

The BJP, a laggard in state politics for long, owes its rise as much to social engineering by bringing to the fore backward caste leaders, such as Gopinath Munde, as to the tie-up with the Sena.

 

It would not be wrong to say the BJP was the Sena’s junior partner when it came to power in the Congress bastion in 1995, when the word of Bal Thackeray, the Sena founder, was law. He was the unchallenged ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’, when Modi was taking baby steps in politics.

 

The Sena founder was the prominent non-BJP leader who had rallied behind Modi in the wake of the Gujarat riots in 2002, when a section of the BJP led by the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee wanted him to be replaced as chief minister.

 

Much has changed since then. Modi and Shah revered the Sena founder but have failed to strike the right chemistry with his successor despite Uddhav being a soft-spoken and mild-mannered man, unlike his father.

 

The prominence the Sena had changed since the BJP parted ways with it in the Assembly polls in October 2014, four months after the Lok Sabha victory. Modi’s aggressive campaigning resulted in the BJP securing 120-plus seats in the 288-member House, while Sena got 63 seats.

 

Since then, the two parties have contested separately a number of elections in the state, including the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation elections last year, which have generally seen a rise in the fortunes of the BJP.

 

Politics has its own dynamic and it would be simplistic to believe that 2019 would be the same as 2014. While the NDA is coming unstuck in Maharashtra, the talk of the Congress and Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) joining hands is growing by the day. The two had contested separately the last Assembly polls.

 

The BJP in Maharashtra is reneging on the promises it had made to voters in the state. Suicides of farmers continue, reflecting agrarian distress. Caste tensions are growing in the countryside due to rural unrest while the issue of general price rise and the rising prices of fuel are affecting all.

 

With diverse forces at work, Maharashtra appears to be becoming politically volatile ahead of the polls next year. A section of the ruling alliance believes that if Modi and Shah fail to keep the Hindutva forces intact, the BJP and the Sena could be the loser. The Sena has the capacity to do much harm even if it does not benefit electorally.

Pawar is watching the developments keenly and so is the Congress.


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