There’s no need anymore to read the tea leaves to determine where the Shiv Sena stands vis-à-vis the Bharatiya Janata Party — with which it is allied in the National Democratic Alliance and with whom it is a post-election partner in Maharashtra’s government. Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have just cut the troublesome regional party to size.
It has to remain where it is, with no ministerial berth offered to it in the Union Cabinet rejig that took place on Tuesday. Of the 19 inducted, a former Sena ally, Ramdas Athavale has found a place, and so has another: Apna Dal’s Anupriya Patel. The Sena has to remain content with just one post it holds since it initially joined the Modi government reluctantly.
By not taking another Shiv Sainik on board, the BJP has apparently thrown the gauntlet to the party that has all along tried to appear as if it was in Maharashtra’s Devendra Fadnavis government, not to destabilise it, but as an internal Opposition. It is, thus, running with the hare and hunting with the hound. One seldom sees such a situation where a partner keeps embarrassing the government.
Now it remains to be seen as to how the Sena conducts itself vis-à-vis the Fadnavis-led government. Will it ease tensions in the relationship by ceasing to be critical of it? Although, of late Uddhav has been pointing out that he had never criticised the chief minister. Such nuanced pronouncements may be a staple for headlines but to the cadre of both the parties, an irritation.
The immediate Sena reaction was that it was a ‘BJP cabinet expansion, not NDA expansion’, although till yesterday Thackeray was insisting that he wouldn’t be begging for a berth for his party. He was expecting a ‘just and legitimate’ share of berths (plural). He was apparently irked that the BJP leadership did not even bother to get in touch with him to even inform the Sena that it needn’t even hope for a berth.
The Sena has played ducks and drakes with the BJP, and once, withdrew Anil Desai, a Rajya Sabha MP when he should have been at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in November 2014. Uddhav had called him back from Delhi airport, thus starting the process of keeping the relationship with the BJP taut. The Sena’s expectation was for at least two ministers of state with independent charge in the NDA Cabinet.
It now emerges that the BJP is more tolerant of the Sena than expected though the underlying argument is that the latter’s departure, if ever, would be a price the Sena itself would pay. By withdrawing from the Maharashtra government, it could make the BJP uncomfortable, but not force a collapse leading to any mid-term elections.
The NCP that had offered outside support when Sena was playing the reluctant bride, has not withdrawn it. Nor has the state government pressed forward with probes in the alleged irrigation scams when the related ministry was with it in the predecessor Congress-NCP government. Chhagan Bhujbal, who is in the cooler in disproportionate assets case, could even be an example BJP may want the NCP to keep in mind.
The ball is now with the Sena.
It may decide its course only after the civic polls where it would test if the BJP leading the state has made any difference on the ground in urban areas. Mumbai and Thane where these are due next year could be when the denouement arrives.
However, a year is a long time in politics.