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BJP in damage control mode to keep 'estranged' allies in good mood as Amit Shah set to meet Uddhav, Badal

Amit Shah's previous visits to Matoshree in Mumbai had not really been enthusing for both the parties concerned — Bharatiya Janata Party and Shiv Sena.

Shah has been there twice. First in September 2014, on the concluding day of his three-day visit to Mumbai sometime after he had assumed post of the BJP president. The purpose was to hold seat-sharing negotiations for upcoming Maharastra Assembly elections. It is history now that due to unyielding attitude of both BJP and Sena, the two "original allies" fought elections separately as bitter rivals only to realise that that post May 2014, the BJP was far stronger and had become the big brother in Maharashtra politics and Shiv Sena had become a pale shadow of what it used to be.

His second visit to the Sena supremo's residence Matoshree was in June, 2017, to tell Uddhav that the authority to name NDA’s presidential nominee would rest with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Uddhav, by then, had already proposed name of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and agriculture scientist MS Swaminathan for the president's post. Uddhav didn't agree with Shah’s proposal and that meeting too remained inconclusive.

It's a different matter though that Shiv Sena ultimately supported NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind in the 2017 Presidential Election.

File image of Prime MInister Narendra Modi with BJP chief Amit Shah. PTI

File image of Prime MInister Narendra Modi with BJP chief Amit Shah. PTI

Since then, Sena has become very bitter of BJP, declaring its intent to contest 2019 elections on its own. It fought a bitter electoral battle with BJP in Palghar parliamentary constituency by-election and lost it badly. Post-defeat, Sena went to the extent of calling BJP as its biggest enemy.

Under these circumstances, Shah landing in Mumbai on Wednesday assumes special significance. It’s surely not an ordinary meeting of two estranged allies. Bal Thackeray’s death and advent of Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo at the Centre completely changed equations between Sena and BJP.

But with ten months to go for next Lok Sabha election and BJP stopping slightly short of majority mark in Karnataka, losses in high value Gorakhpur, Phulpur and Kairana parliamentary bypolls, exit of Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu and his TDP from NDA’s fold, positioning of some other allies like JD(U), LJP and RLSP — have made Modi and Shah review their strategy and approach towards their current and prospective allies.

Congress' willingness to play second fiddle with any and every regional ally to keep BJP out of power and bitter enemies like Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party coming together has also as acted as catalysts in making Shah, at least let that perception go, that the BJP leadership is walking an extra mile to address to concerns of allies.

By going to Matoshree (to apparently to have a free and frank conversation with an angry ally), Shah would give an impression that the BJP leadership was trying to be accommodative. Despite all that bitterness and needless outbursts from Sena against the party, Modi and the Centre, the BJP was still willing to walk along with its old ideological ally. If Sena continues to not agree to play the ball, then BJP will have a point or two to tell its cadre and sympathisers when it goes to the polls in next year.

If Shah is able to convince Uddhav that interests of both the parties remain protected in staying together and going to contesting elections as an ally, he would win yet another battle in public perception and also strengthen his own image as chanakya of contemporary politics.

After meeting with Uddhav, Shah will fly to Punjab to meet another ally in north — Shiromani Akali Dal's Prakash Singh Badal and Sukhbir Singh Badal. Akali Dal is another "ideological" ally but lately their relationship has been uneasy. The BJP leadership continues to respect Badal senior but there has been a sense in the party that they lost Punjab elections so badly because of the kind of anti-incumbency Badals faced.

Arun Jaitley's defeat in Amritsar in 2014 Lok Sabha Election has also been blamed on the Akalis. But despite uneasiness, leaders of two parties have maintained restraint and have not taken each other publicly. Shah visit to the Badals signifies willingness of BJP to keep its flock in NDA intact. On Sunday, Shah had a meeting with LJP leader Ram Vilas Paswan.

Paswan had certain concerns relating to co-ordination between BJP and its allies and also on “dilution” of SC/ST Act by Supreme Court. Paswan carries the perception that he reads direction of political winds right and was first one to read winds of change in run up to 2014 elections and was first important leader to join Modi and BJP.

In last few days, Shah met with Ramdev, cricketer Kapil Dev and former army chief General Dalbir Singh Suhag as part of his "sampark" or outreach program. All BJP leaders, starting from Union ministers down to the booth level workers are expected to meet people from all walks of life and tell them everything that the Modi government has achieved in last four years. Shah’s meeting with Ramdev, a person who has been one of the most prominent votaries of Modi and BJP since 2013 is interesting.

Shah's outreach programme to his allies at this stage has another interesting feature – way back in April 2017 in presence of 33 leaders at an extended meeting of NDA allies had passed a resolution moved by Ram Vilas Paswan “to work together to win a second term under the strong leadership of Narendra Modi in 2019". TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu has since then left NDA and Shiv Sena chief is publicly speaking of moving out of NDA in 2019. Both these leaders were present in that meeting. A year later, Shah has realised that he needs to have confidence among allies about Modi and BJP with the next general elections right around the corner.


Updated Date: Jun 05, 2018 17:18 PM

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