The Shiv Sena said this week that it will back out of the alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and go it alone in the Lok Sabha and Maharashtra Assembly elections, both scheduled for 2019.
If the party does follow through on this threat, it will bring the curtains down on an often fractious relationship between the allies. It will also come at the end of a tumultuous 12-month period when the two have bickered openly, hurled barbs and accusations at each other, and even contested municipal elections to the cash-rich Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) separately.
Things began going wrong for the alliance in February 2017 in the weeks leading up to the BMC elections, when the BJP started slamming the Sena-ruled civic body and accusing it of corruption. Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis even released a video saying the BMC is not a "money-minting machine" and said a "BJP-led BMC is the key to transformation".
— Devendra Fadnavis (@Dev_Fadnavis) February 18, 2017
The Shiv Sena hit back at the BJP, saying the party and the chief minister "will be sent back" if he kept slamming the Sena. It also said the Devendra Fadnavis goernment has been "put on notice period", and if the ruling party kept this up, the Sena will back out of the alliance, forcing snap mid-term elections.
He went further a day later to say he does see mid-term elections taking place. Speaking to a private news channel, Uddhav said, "I see a mid-term election happening, the people seem ready."
Uddhav also said a further decision will be taken after the BMC polls. "We will decide on withdrawing support (to the government) after the BMC election," he added.
However, if the Sena felt the BMC elections would give it a chance of consolidating its grip over the country's financial capital and send out a message to the BJP, things panned out rather differently. The Sena did emerge as the single largest party with 84 seats, but the BJP was only two short of this at 82. The Sena's tally increased by just nine — it went from 75 to 84 — while the BJP went up from 31 to 82, a rise of 51 seats.
The BJP interpreted this result as a sign that the two were equal partners in the state; no longer would the BJP settle to be in second place to Sena in an alliance. "Nobody is a big brother of small brother this time. We are both equally placed in the BMC. Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray should realise this and start a dialogue with us," Raosaheb Danve, Maharashtra BJP president, said.
Blame games continue
After the results of the BMC election were announced, the two parties continued accusing each other of treachery and deceit. Over the issue of there not being a full-time defence minister — Arun Jaitley held additional charge of the ministry before Nirmala Sitharaman was appointed full-time — the Sena said the BJP was "toying" with the country's national security.
"A nation as big as India not having a full-time defence minister amounts to toying with national security," the Sena said in an editorial in party mouthpiece Saamana. "People are responsible for this (of voting BJP-led government to power) and soldiers are now bearing the brunt of this misdeed."
In May, on the third anniversary of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre, the Sena said chaos and confusion is dominating the NDA administration. "People are in anguish, farmers are committing suicide and soldiers are sacrificing their lives. If somebody wants to celebrate the three years even now, it would mean they are indifferent towards these issues," the Sena had said in a Saamana editorial.
The party then said pre-poll election promises made by the BJP were like doling out jumlas and lollypops. "If promises have been made into mere election 'jumlas', people will lose faith in public rallies and politicians," the Sena said. "People may now be shocked to learn that promises of loan waiver (for farmers) and job creation were only lollipops."
The demonetisation decision, the Sena then said, was pushing debt-ridden farmers into greater despair and allowing their farms to fall into ruin. "After years, monsoon last year brought hope to farmers and they had a bumper production but the knife of demonetisation led them to sell their produce at dirt cheap rates. They couldn't even recover their input costs and as a result, debt-ridden farmers plunged deeper into losses," the Sena said in an editorial in Saamana.
Alliance on the brink
In November last year, the Sena released a booklet titled 'Scamster BJP', highlighting a list of scams that have taken place under the Devendra Fadnavis government in Maharashtra. The 56-page booklet, of which Firstpost has a copy, was handed out to Shiv Sena party members during an organisational meeting at Sena Bhavan on Wednesday, and Sena president Uddhav Thackeray also urged party members to "to be prepared for mid-term polls".
Frustrated by the Sena's constant needling of his administration, Fadnavis hit back at the party, saying it can't play the role of government ally and an Opposition at the same time. "Some Sena leaders have developed the habit of opposing everything our government does... One can understand opposition to a few things as they are a different party," Fadnavis said. "How is it alright if you oppose everything? How can it be that you are in government and opposition at the same time? People do not like this," he said.
The two decided to go it alone in Gujarat in December's Assembly elections, with the Shiv Sena saying it will contest 50-60 seats but on its own without support from the BJP. "We shall put up candidates in these constituencies, spread mainly between Surat to Ahmedabad, which has a large Maharashtrian-origin population, and even extending to pockets beyond upto Rajkot," Sena leader Rajul Patel had said.
However, at the time, it didn't say anything about whether it would follow suit by walking out of the government in Maharashtra and at the Centre. And when the BJP ended up victorious in Gujarat, the Sena even congratulated Rahul Gandhi for a "fighting" performance. "When the faces of bigwigs (in the BJP) were turning black due to fear of defeat, Rahul Gandhi was in the poll arena without bothering about the result. It is this confidence that will take Rahul forward," it said.
It was the clearest hint till then that the Sena may be walking out of an existing alliance and may be looking for new friends. And when Aaditya Thackeray, the party's youth wing president and future heir to the throne, said it would walk out of the government "within one year", the writing was all over the wall. "The Sena will quit power (in Maharashtra) in one year and come back to power on its own strength. Uddhav Thackeray will decide the time when the party will quit power," Aaditya Thackeray had said in December.
It remains to be seen now if the party will walk out straightaway — and pave the way for mid-term elections — or stay out the duration of the term in an uncomfortable alliance.
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Updated Date: Jan 25, 2018 18:13:47 IST