BMC Election 2017: The complicated history of Shiv Sena, BJP — from friends to enemies to frenemies

It is of note that the Shiv Sena did not take out impromptu victory rallies on Thursday, celebrating its 84 seats in the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai. It is as if there is some prompt introspection about the decision, for they stand to lose control of the civic body, unless there is some post-poll tie-up with some other party.

It was the aggressive Sena leader, Uddhav Thackeray, who had announced during an end-January rally of his party that henceforth his party would not engage in any post-poll alliance. If some meaning was to be derived from the statement, it can be assumed that the the Sena would accept a tie-up if some party approached it.

It may be assumed that going solo, and suggesting that it was fighting an existential battle against forces that were non-Marathi galvanized the voters to rally around them, but that also helped the city divide itself between Marathi and non-Marathi voters, like never before. It however does not mean every Marathi 'manoos' voted for Sena.

Uddhav Thackeray. PTI

Uddhav Thackeray. PTI

But that emphasis on its 'Marathiness' did not catapult the party back into the driver’s seat of the country’s richest but certainly poorly managed civic body. The belief that the inconvenience caused by demonetisation would overarch all considerations and push the voters into embracing the Sena did not happen either. Half the voters wanted transparency. The other half was willing to accept opacity for identity politics.

Now is the time to see if the Shiv Sena which prides itself for never backtracking on any issue, to prove that it can put the money where its mouth is. If it does not, the party’s character could diminish for it has already backpedaled once. This started when it started fighting the BJP, choosing to be its opposition in the legislature, and then opting to join the government on unsatisfactory terms. It has been trying to mix oil and water: to be an opposition within the government.

If BJP which is not averse to the belief that politics is the art of the possible, decides to partner with the Sena for the corporation’s control, it too would lose its credibility. The kind of virulent campaign, unlike anything seen before in Maharashtra, cannot merely be buried and forgotten. Sena was the ‘mafia’ and ‘corrupt’ and ‘non-transparent’ and sleeping with it would cause unease among the citizens.

The volte face in 2014 had confused the Sena cadre and when the party decided to plunge headlong into a campaign with no allies for the civic bodies, there was a wave of exhilaration among the cadre who were happy with an assertion of their identity. That got the party the seats it bagged, and any adjustment now would again blur the distinctions between the cadres of both parties at the street level.

Strategies for elections may be crafted in the backrooms of the offices of political parties, but are won by the cadre on the streets in every conceivable way apart from raising the funds. This is true for any party. This campaign has also shown than Sena’s constituency is limited in a manner of speaking, though it did manage to have two Muslim candidates elected. This blurring of the edges can trouble the cadre.

Shiv Sena has been using its partnership in the government led by Devendra Fadnavis as a means to trouble the BJP, and at one point of time, even announced that on the day the campaign ended, the ministers would submit their resignations to the party chief. That did not happen, and was apparently designed to uplift the cadre’s mood by reasserting the old identity of being a party that wanted no quarter from another.

Even when the Sena ministers called on Devendra Fadnavis at his home on 8 February a minister had waved a paper and said that he always carried his resignation letter in his pocket. That was both a threat to the BJP and a reassurance to its cadre. Now, if they did work out a patch up with their 'frenemy' — the BJP — the cadre may not be too pleased. There is a history to recall about this nuance even when they were in alliance since 1995.

Raj Thackeray, once when he was a part of the Sena, and a competitor in the race for eventual succession, took a tour of the party’s shakhas in the city and heard the men and women. In Assembly constituencies where the BJP had the MLAs, the Sena shakhas felt redundant. The work they wanted done by the MLA was avoided even on petitions, and the shakha chiefs had become sahebs – meaning pompous but effete.

These chits they issued, took them nowhere where the BJP had its man, thus dividing the city into Sena and non-Sena areas. And the shakhas are known to deliver, by hook or crook, and that earned them both respect and votes. Again, since 2014, this has apparently reemerged to the discomfort of the cadre, who would rather wrest their due their way than be beholden to anyone else. Tie-ups at the top only dulled their edge.

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Updated Date: Feb 24, 2017 18:17:07 IST

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