BJP-Shiv Sena seat-sharing pact in Maharashtra: Why the alliance was never on the rocks despite many ‘differences’

Socrates, it is believed, once said of marriage that it is a wonderful thing. If good, it will make you happy. If not, it’ll make a philosopher out of you. It is not known what the Greek philosopher thought of the effect of marriage on politics. We know that it makes for top notch entertainment.

There should never have been any doubt over BJP and Shiv Sena’s ability to put aside their differences and settle on a seat-sharing arrangement for the Lok Sabha polls. Yes, they did bicker. Shiv Sena turned from an alliance partner, to a "frenemy" to almost a bona fide member of the Opposition, but show me a couple that doesn’t bicker and I’ll show you El Dorado.

The trouble with much of what passes for commentary these days is that there is a tendency to focus on the optics instead of taking into account the structural realities. Shiv Sena’s shenanigans served to shore up the prime time ratings, hike page hits and occupy reams of space in print. Uddhav Thackeray’s daily sound bites against Narendra Modi, his party’s Ram Mandir campaign in Ayodhya, Sanjay Raut’s appearance on Opposition forums, Saamna’s daily diatribes against the BJP – all were “forgotten” the instant Amit Shah visited Matoshree, the Thackeray residence.

BJP-Shiv Sena seat-sharing pact in Maharashtra: Why the alliance was never on the rocks despite many ‘differences’

Amit Shah flanked by Uddhav Thackeray and Devendra Fadnavis during the announcement of an alliance between Shiv Sena and BJP for Lok Sabha and Assembly polls. PTI

In a spirit of rare bonhomie between the apparently ‘estranged’ partners, we are told that ‘all is well’. In the 48 Lok Sabha constituencies, the BJP will fight in 25 seats, leaving the rest to the Sena. Thackeray, who has taken Modi to the cleaners on several occasions and even adopted Rahul Gandhi’s oft-repeated jibe ‘chowkidar chor hai’ during a campaign rally last year, suddenly seems to have realised that they are a couple who have been married for 30 years.

On Monday, Thackeray said, “People have been seeing the Shiv Sena and the BJP for the past 30 years. For 25 years, we stood united, and for 5 years, there was confusion. But like the chief minister said, I still provided guidance to the government from time to time.” So it’s “guidance”, folks. And we thought the Sena was feeling oppressed under the BJP’s yoke!

On its part, the BJP didn’t hold back either. Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said, “We have had our differences but in terms of ideologies, we are alike. Hence, we have stayed together for this long...We think parties which share similar national interests must come together. We have decided to contest the Lok Sabha and state elections together.”

And therein lies the crux. This marriage will never be derailed despite a thousand differences because of the inherent structural realities. These realities inform the hard political decisions that we witnessed on Monday – never mind the optics. Both the Shiv Sena and BJP know that the cost of not having a seat-sharing arrangement will be greater than the cost of having one. This is a greater reality for the Shiv Sena, whose core voter base is not really that different from the BJP. This is a problem because it renders the Sena vulnerable to the BJP’s aggressive rise that must come at the regional party's expense.

This is the reason why the Sena has been all fire and brimstone at the BJP, trying to rev up its cadres and differentiate between the two "brands". This is almost an existential exercise for the regional outfit. However, when faced with the reality of fighting polls alone, the Sena is aware that it may suffer greater erosion in seats and vote share if there’s no alliance in place. To a certain extent, this is also true of the BJP, which may explain its willingness to take the Sena’s insults on the chin.

As long as these realities don’t change, there will be no threat to the marriage. As for the bickering, let that hog prime time attention. Nobody loses.

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Updated Date: Feb 18, 2019 23:33:26 IST

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