Anyone who is following Maharashtra's political space, including Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party chief Amit Shah knew that Shiv Sena will not bridge a pre-poll alliance with its big brother for 2019.
The Saamna, the Sena mouthpiece, said it loud and clear, a day before, and after Shah’s ‘Sampark Abhiyan’ meeting with Sena President Uddhav Thackeray at his Bandra residence on Wednesday. This was reiterated by Uddhav at Palghar on Thursday, where he referred to the meet as a ‘drama’.
Then why did Shah, with his political wit, reach out and cajole the Thackeray clan on Wednesday? Partly, it was to rub Thackeray’s ego and resolve internal issues that exist between the two, so that the Sena cooperates with BJP till the elections are declared. But primarily, this seems to be part of BJP’s political posturing strategy which they believe will pay off in the 2019 elections.
Firstly, Uddhav who keeps sulking about the time when senior BJP leaders would come and meet his father Bal Thackeray and seek his partnership and blessings, cannot crib about it anymore. Whenever he raises this in the future, he is bound to be reminded of this meeting. And so, when he officially breaks the alliance, the ball will be in his court and not the BJP’s. He will have to explain to his voters where the Sena stands, and not resort to any fence-sitting anymore.
Secondly, recent BJP setbacks, especially the by-poll at Palghar has put the central leadership on an alert, and on a mission to ensure that it diverts Sena votes towards itself. BJP managed to win the Palghar seat by a slim margin of 29,572 votes and lost out on about six lakh votes because of cross-voting and Sena stepping in. BJP will not want to see this repeat in the general elections, in case Sena puts out a candidate against them in every seat.
As the Shiv Sena is not a national party, the BJP is looking at poaching into at least 15-20 percent of the Shiv Sena’s vote share for the general elections, if it has to get anywhere close to a majority.
A look at Sena’s vote share in both the general and Assembly elections shows that the BJP has to recognise its position in the total vote share in case Congress and NCP fight polls together and work on a revival strategy now.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the alliance collectively along with the Swabhimani Paksha bagged 50.20 percent votes, winning 42 seats out of total 48 seats in Maharashtra. While the BJP polled 27.30 percent of votes and won 23 seats, the Sena secured 20.60 percent of votes and bagged 18 seats.
When they fought separately in the 2014 Assembly elections, the Sena won 63 seats of the 282 seats they contested, securing 19.3 percent of the votes polled. BJP, on the other hand, won 122 seats and secured 27.8 percent of the votes polled. In the same election, the Congress and NCP, when at its worst secured 17.95 percent and 17.24 percent votes respectively. If these two parties come together, and Sena goes on its own, it will be difficult for BJP to cross the winning mark.
And while this is mere statistics, the question is why the traditional Sena voter, would vote for the BJP in the Assembly elections?
The Sena voter, in general, is politically aware and understands that for the Shiv Sena, a regional party, it is the Assembly election that is crucial. He also understands that an anti-BJP vote in the general elections will help the Sena only score a political point, but will help the Congress-NCP, causing bigger damage. If you look at the profile of the Sena voter, many of them still connect with the BJP because of the late party chief Bal Thackeray’s connection with the party, his hatred for Congress and his strong views on Hindutva. BJP is aware that in several pockets especially in Mumbai, Konkan, and parts of Vidarbha, they are likely to see cross-voting from these voters on these issues. And now with Shah’s visit to Matoshree, his paying respects to the late supremo, and acknowledging their current leader, the voter might not be averse to supporting them for 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
As for Thackeray, he has already made it clear that his party is going solo and that pre-poll ties are out of question. But with no word on post-poll tie-ups, Shah and Thackeray’s closed-door conversation has left much room for speculation.
The author is a senior fellow at ORF and a former political journalist.
Updated Date: Jun 11, 2018 10:42 AM