With Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s announcement on Thursday that his party would go it alone and without an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP ) in the ensuing elections for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the Sena will be fighting for its survival on home-turf. However, the breakup of the alliance for the civic polls is unlikely to affect the partnership of the saffron parties in state politics as the Sena and BJP appear to have a tacit understanding on not allowing Opposition parties like the Congress and NCP, or some new players, to profit from the space left after the BJP swept the Assembly polls.
This is not the first time that the Sena and the BJP have fought each other. They went solo in the last Assembly election in 2014, but formed a post-poll tieup after the Narendra Modi wave in the Assembly. The Shiv Sena, which was the big brother in the saffron partnership in past elections, was compelled to play second fiddle.
Over the past two-and-a-half years, the BJP and the Sena have been at loggerheads on various issues. The Sena opposed Pakistani singer Ghulam Ali’s concert in Mumbai, leading to its cancellation. Its foot-soldiers blackened the face of the organiser of former Pakistani minister Khurshid Kasuri’s book release, after which Thackeray had felicitated those involved in the incident, manifesting that despite being in power, the party is a patron of hooliganism. In yet another incident of Sena’s hubris, its workers stormed the office of the Board of Control for Cricket in India to sabotage talks on organising cricket matches between India and Pakistan.
The BJP has asserted itself as the big brother. Sena ministers in the Devendra Fadnavis government, like Ravindra Waikar, have complained that they were being slighted by the BJP. The Sena’s demand for more and important ministerial berths and political appointments on state-run corporations is on hold. When Modi visited Mumbai to lay the foundation stone for Dr BR Ambedkar's national memorial, Dalit leaders of various factions were invited, but Thackeray was not invited. The BJP not only hijacked the occasion to consolidate its position among Dalits, but also lured Ramdas Athawale into its fold. Athawale’s Republican Party of India (RPI) had formed an alliance with the Sena, but the BJP made him a minister of state in the Modi Cabinet, which made Athawale switch loyalties.
For a party like the Sena that is known for its aggression on the streets and penchant for xenophobic politics, the past two-and-a-half years have brought in unprecedented anguish. It has been forced to play the sidekick to the BJP, which has been an ally for over two decades. However, with electoral success, the BJP has metamorphosed into more of a rival than an ally. To wrest power from the Sena in the BMC, the BJP has already launched a campaign against Thackeray's party. BJP’s local leaders have been unearthing scams in the BMC and calling for better and clean governance of civic affairs in Mumbai.
Interestingly, despite the rancour, the Sena has exhibited endurance that is highly unbecoming of its DNA. While opposing Pakistani cricketers or singers, the Sena had the option of resorting to constitutional methods of asking its MPs to prevail upon the BJP in Parliament to break diplomatic ties with Pakistan. Instead, it chose to flex its muscles on the streets of Mumbai.
To combat humiliation, the Sena also had the option of walking out of the saffron alliance, by asking its MPs and MLAs to quit the cabinets of Modi and Fadnavis, respectively. However, the Sena chose to cling to power. The BJP on the other hand, has kept the Sena on a tight leash. Apparently, there is a tacit understanding between the Sena and the BJP to keep parties like the Congress and the NCP at bay from the Opposition space. Also, since coming together, the BJP and Sena have a monstrous majority and new players may emerge in state politics to fill the Opposition vacuum.
To prevent the Congress-NCP or new players from occupying the Opposition space, the tacit understanding seems to be working in favour of the saffron parties. The BJP plays the role of the responsible national party following the rule book, while the Sena is free to retain its xenophobic identity. The mainstream Opposition parties — Congress and the NCP — are yet to come to terms with the reality of being in the Opposition after a long time. Besides, powerful voices in the Congress and NCP are muffled as many leaders who were in power in the previous government (including state Congress chief Ashok Chavan, and NCP leaders Chhagan Bhujbal and Ajit Pawar) are under investigation for corruption.
The Sena faces an uphill task in retaining power in the BMC. It will be the most severe setback for the party if it loses power. In the event of a fractured mandate, it can form a post-poll alliance with the BJP, like it did after the Assembly polls, but will most likely be further tamed by the BJP. The outcome of the BMC polls will not hit the BJP-Sena alliance in the state and the Centre until such a time as the Sena decides to quit the state and Central governments.
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Updated Date: Jan 27, 2017 12:25:37 IST