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As BJP, Shiv Sena flip-flop over future of alliance, Congress and NCP sneak ahead with pre-poll agreement

There have been political rivalries and there have been formidable political alliances, whether all-weather or pre-poll; however, there hasn't been a coalition with a shakier love-hate relationship than the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Shiv Sena.

From supporting the BJP government at the Centre to being its ally in Maharashtra, Shiv Sena has stuck with the saffron party through thick and thin (the latest being the BJP's defeat in the Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and allies like TDP deserting it). But that hasn't stopped the Uddhav Thackeray-led party from constantly criticising the Centre for its failed policies and partisan approach.

Sena's official mouthpiece Saamna has time and again published pieces attacking BJP president Amit Shah and also thrown sharp jabs at the party after its recent poll debacle. Even Uddhav has made repeated 'direct' attacks on the BJP and its leadership — at the state as well as the Centre — yet their partnership has remained intact.

However, now as the Lok Sabha elections approach, the jitters can be seen among the leaders of both the parties on the future of the 'holy' alliance. While the BJP is trying to underplay any reported rift, Sena seems uncertain of the eventual fate of it ahead of the big battle.

 As BJP, Shiv Sena flip-flop over future of alliance, Congress and NCP sneak ahead with pre-poll agreement

Narendra Modi with Uddhav Thackeray. AFP

Whereas, on the other hand, Congress seems to have found its mojo back. Triumphant with the recent wins, the Grand Old Party has reportedly ironed out all its differences with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) for a foreseeable alliance in Maharashtra. Though there were reports of trouble in the Congress-NCP paradise as well, it looks like both the parties have sorted their problems before the issue could snowball into a poll ploy for the Opposition.

Senior leaders from the Congress and the NCP confirmed on Monday that the two parties have agreed to share 45 of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra. According to a report in the The Indian Express, former NDA ally Raju Shetti’s Swabhimaani Shetkari Sanghthana (SSS) is also likely to join hands with the Congress and NCP, along with the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The parties are also keen to involve Prakash Ambedkar’s Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) in the umbrella alliance, the report said.

However, according to some reports, BBM is not ready to sever its ties with Asaduddin Owaisi's All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and hence has rejected the proposal to join the opposition unity in Maharashtra.

Moreover, the fact that the Congress and the NCP have offered the 'smaller' allies only three seats has left them seething over the formula and they are demanding more seats. In the proposed mega-alliance, the Palghar constituency is likely to be given to the Bahujan Vikas Aghadi, Akola to BBM (if Prakash Ambedkar decides to join the alliance) and the Hatkanangale constituency to Raju Shetti-led Swabhimani Shetkar Sanghatana (SSS), the Asian Age reported.

Nevertheless, the Congress-NCP alliance looks in a better shape presently than the BJP-Shiv Sena partnership.

In the 2014 General Election to Lok Sabha, the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance had bagged 42 of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra. While the BJP had won 23, Sena bagged 18 and Swabhimani Party took one seat. After the recent bye-polls, the BJP's tally slipped to 22, while the SSS MP Raju Shetti broke away from the NDA to join the Congress-NCP alliance. And the effect of this downfall was visible with the growing tension between the two allies, ever since. On several occasions over the last year, Shiv Sena has said on record that they won't contest the 2019 elections in alliance with the BJP.

While Amit Shah had advised state BJP leaders to avoid a public spat with Shiv Sena, his own comments at a public rally in Maharashtra in December 2018 had miffed Shiv Sena members and made the rift even more evident. Shah had said that "BJP will throw away those who don't go with them". The use of the term 'patak denge (will trounce them)' had miffed Shiv Sena, forcing the BJP to go into a huddle.

Uddhav, in response to Shah's remarks, had recently said that none had been born yet that could trounce his outfit. Uddhav’s response came at a public meeting in Mumbai. “I have heard words like ‘patak denge’ from someone. One who will trounce the Shiv Sena is yet to be born,” he told the rally.

The Sena chief also took a dig at Shah for likening the upcoming polls to the Third Battle of Panipat. “Once you lose the confidence of people, you are bound to lose any battle. When people lose their confidence in you, they will pull you down from power,” he said.

The Sena head had used the opportunity to take a swipe at the phenomenon of 'Modi wave', saying: “The Sena has seen enough ‘waves’ in its journey.” He also cornered the party with the 'Hindutva' agenda at its core for stalling the construction of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. “The BJP should come clean on it,” Uddhav had said.

Some BJP leaders, Uddhav had said, were calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. “How come the incarnation of Lord Vishnu can’t get the Ram temple built?” he had said, wondering if the BJP was treating the construction of a Ram temple as just another “jumla” (rhetoric). In the same speech, Uddhav had blasted the Uttar Pradesh chief minister and one of the party's star poll campaigner, Yogi Adityanath (without naming him though), for his remarks categorising Lord Hanuman as a Dalit. “You have a leader who talks about the caste of our God, Hanuman. If a similar thing had happened in some other religion, people would have broken that person’s teeth,” he said.

The tremors of Uddhav's attack were felt in all political circles with Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis telling his party MLAs and MPs, that while attempts were being made to forge an alliance with the Shiv Sena, they should also be prepared to contest independently.

The BJP's complete silence over the ongoing BEST strike, which entered its eighth day on Tuesday also gives an indication of its 'give-in' approach to dealing with the Shiv Sena. Though Fadnavis on Monday intervened and spoke to Uddhav over the phone after a meeting on Monday in the Mantralaya between striking BEST union functionaries and state chief secretary DK Jain failed to break the deadlock, no conclusion has been officially reached at yet. Sena has been unable to end the strike despite its affiliated union, the BEST Kamgar Sena, announcing a pullout a day into the strike.

The Shiv Sena is the ruling party in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and its corporator is the BEST chairman. Striking workers have been demanding the merger of the BMC and BEST budgets as well as higher salaries among other issues.

Late on Sunday evening, Uddhav had said that his party was in favour of merging the BMC and BEST budgets. "The financial condition of the BEST has deteriorated. I had given the promise of the merger of the budgets and that will be fulfilled. A solution can be found only through the talks. Even though the BEST strike issue is in the court, I am ready to be part of the discussion if necessary," he had said.

Meanwhile, Shiv Sena spokesperson Manisha Kayande told News18, "We are a part of the NDA, but the BJP hasn't taken into consideration any of its NDA allies’ opinions. We have tried to perform; our individual ministers have fought for people's cause. Uddhav ji has already announced that we will fight the elections on our own steam."

And this does not look entirely impossible since many Congress and NCP leaders who defected to BJP during the 2014 Assembly election and emerged victorious, are now jittery seeing the present state of the party post its dismal performance in recent elections.

According to several media reports, after the Congress victory in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, Fadnavis had called an urgent meeting of his MLAs where he exhorted them to stay together and assured them that in 2019, BJP will return to power both in the Centre and in the state.

However, the DNA quoted a BJP leader as saying that most of these MLAs who defected from Congress and NCP were not convinced. "The disappointment and possible loss of BJP in Maharashtra was the main issue among these 35 MLAs. They do not want to be a part of the losing side in 2019. The Chief Minister’s pep talk did not uplift the worrying mood and boost their confidence,” a BJP leader requesting anonymity told DNA.

Among the most recent revelations of a palpable and growing tension between the alliance is former Maharashtra chief minister Narayan Rane's son accusing Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray of trying to kill singer Sonu Nigam 'several times'.

"Bal Thackeray tried to kill Sonu Nigam," Nilesh said on Tuesday. "Attempts were made several times. Someone go ask him, he might admit it now. Where did all the Shiv Sainiks who went to kill him (Sonu Nigam) go now? What relationship did Sonu Nigam have with Bal Thackeray? Don’t ask me. Balasaheb has killed a lot of people in his Karjat farmhouse. Don’t come after me, my name is Rane."

Nilesh was reacting to Shiv Sena MP Vinayak Raut's allegation that nine people had been killed in the 10 years of Nilesh's father Narayan's political life. Nilesh whose Maharashtra Swabhimaan Paksh (MSP) is supporting the BJP in Maharashtra, also accused the Shiv Sena founder of ordering the murder of former party leader Anand Dighe.

Dighe was the Shiv Sena's Thane district unit chief and died of a heart attack in August 2001. Shortly after his death, Dighe's supporters set on fire the hospital he was admitted to. "Two Shiv Sena workers who knew about this murder and couldn't digest this were also killed," Nilesh, a former Congress MP added.

Narayan began his political career as a member of the Shiv Sena and was ousted by Uddhav in 2005. After stints at the Congress and the MSP, he then became a member of the BJP's national campaign council and was elected to the Rajya Sabha on a BJP nomination. However, with Nilesh's attack on Sena, it looks like it's not just the BJP who has trouble brewing with Sena.

Thus, amid all these conjectures, it would be interesting to see if the BJP and Shiv Sena are able to keep their alliance afloat despite major threats from the Opposition, especially considering 'horse-trading' is the flavour of the season.

Your guide to the latest election news, analysis, commentary, live updates and schedule for Lok Sabha Elections 2019 on firstpost.com/elections. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates from all 543 constituencies for the upcoming general elections.

Updated Date: Jan 15, 2019 20:48:50 IST