Shiv Sena's search for 'respectable alliance' with BJP reflects anxiety ahead of BMC polls
The 2017 civic elections are crucial for the Shive Sena as the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai is its lifeblood
Why does the Shiv Sena, which parted ways with the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2014, want an alliance for the upcoming civic elections that will be held across Maharashtra? For a party that joined the BJP government as a junior partner, to see its leader Uddhav Thackeray now seeking a ‘respectable’ alliance for local elections is a comedown.
The party has realised that being in the government, yet playing the role of the Opposition, with brazen name-calling may not pay dividends. To align with the government, the party would require to do a convulated asana which even Baba Ramdev may find it difficult to contrive. To the BJP, Sena is its divorcee who is now only a tenant.
The 2017 civic elections are crucial for the Sena as the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai is its lifeblood. It nurses an affection for the civic body and its Thane counterpart, which was its first governing body and projected the party as an organisation in electoral politics with substantial ambitions seeking rights of the locals. It cannot hope to lose it, and does not want the BJP to upset the applecart.
Neither the Shiv Sena, nor the BJP have won enough seats on their respective strengths so far, though it did manage to get enough to form a government, except in 1995. In 1990, they had 94, Sena accounting for 52. In the next elections, which led to their forming the government, Sena had 73, BJP 65. Even that was short of seven for a majority, which is at 145. Thereafter, they couldn’t post better results for 15 years.
They had needed each other to score well, until the Modi wave the BJP was the lesser partner. When Sena broke away in 2014 and contested against not just the BJP, but the Congress and the NCP in four cornered contests, it did remarkably well by bagging 62 seats. Having achieved it, Sena thought it had the old partner, who was a new foe, by the short hair.
In the last couple of decades, Maharashtra’s political scene has been one of weak electoral results for any party or an alliance. Even the Congress has not had the good fortune of getting the magic number of 145 since 1990; it had to settle for 141 and rustle up support from smaller parties or Independent MLAs. After the Congress was split in 1999, neither it, nor the NCP could work up good numbers.
The BJP and the Shiv Sena had been allies since 1989, and till they broke it for the Maharashtra Assembly elections. During the entire period of their alliance, the relationship at best was troubled, with the BJP smarting under the domineering attitude of the ally. Often, seniors like Pramod Mahajan had to rush to Bal Thackeray to soften his ire.
Though they are in the BJP’s government, as a partner post a bitter election campaign against each other, the Sena has not learnt to put the recent quarrel behind it. It remains in the government, slams the government at every opportunity and conducts itself as if it was the Opposition. It may have dulled the Congress and NCP into helplessness, but being in government has not diluted its bile.
It now runs with the hare and hunts with the hound and thinks that belittling the BJP suits its politics, but in the bargain has created a ridiculous situation for itself. On Sunday, party chief Uddhav Thackeray said it was ready for an alliance with the BJP, but only with respect. Respect in politics is an undefinable idea, but his remarks also reflected that the party has realised it has pushed the envelope too far.
The party was started at Bal Thackeray’s tiny ground floor apartment in Shivaji Park on 19 June, 1966. At its 50th anniversary, Uddhav betrayed some anxieties. He said he has never criticised Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis; all the Sena ministers in the Cabinet are cooperative.
This willingness for a tie-up for the civic elections, as there are no parliamentary or Assembly elections till 2019 and Mumbai civic elections are next year, indicates its anxiety. The BJP has been returning the compliments to the Sena in the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai; it is a nay-sayer to every idea to Sena in the country’s richest civic body. The Sena is now not as sure-footed as it was believed to be.
BJP would no doubt relish this because the Sena had bitterly fought it in the Assembly elections, and in four-cornered contests, did better than anticipated – 63 seats to BJP’s 122 with smaller partners – and sat in the Opposition before changing its mind to join the government. It has been reduced to a status which is lower than what Sena had provided BJP in its own 1995 government. Even as Uddhav was suggesting a respectable alliance, the BJP’s mood at its state executive was to go it alone.
BJP in all likelihood would revel at the discomfiture of its former ally and a quarrelsome partner in the government, and leave the question of alliances for civic bodies to local leaders. That, if it transpired, would invigorate the cadre, for each wants his time in the light. A civic body’s membership is no small thing.
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