The political journey of the BJP and the Shiv Sena in the last two years after the coalition came to power in Maharashtra can be best described as a roller-coaster ride. In the 24 months of co-habitation, ugly war of words spilling into street fights in public glare became a permanent phenomenon. Yet, the Sena-BJP’s fractured survival has its roots in political reality.
On December 3, 2015, Sena president Uddhav Thackeray formally decided to join the BJP government. The Sena, which cannot come to terms with playing second-fiddle to the BJP, had repeatedly made it clear both through words and action its determination to position itself as an aggressive opposition party in the state.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who was sworn in on October 31, 2014, took in stride the Sena’s double role, with the larger objective of ensuring the government’s political stability. To some degree, they had the Congress-NCP coalition model that survived 15 years in Maharashtra.
Ahead of the crucial local bodies’ elections, including the Mumbai civic polls in early 2017, the big question on everybody’s mind is, will the political arithmetic work? Where does the relationship between the big two – Fadnavis and Thackeray – stand?
Former Sena MP and political commentator Bharatkumar Raut said, “I will describe the Sena-BJP relationship as one based on pure political adjustment. There is no meeting of the minds, forget the hearts.”
“Any alliance that evolves piecemeal based on circumstances cannot bring the desired bonding that is integral to pursuing a minimum political agenda,” he added.
Political managers in the BJP and the Sena are unanimous that there cannot be any compromise as far as strengthening their respective parties is concerned. But, they are quick to emphasise that party politics won’t impact the government in the state or at the Centre.
Fadnavis said, “The BJP won 123 seats, the Shiv Sena 63. Now, in the House of 288 seats, to attain the halfway mark, we required 144 seats. Neither could form the government on its own. So, it’s a mutual decision to bow to the public mandate and shoulder the responsibility to give good governance.”
Yet, not a month passed in the last two years where the allies have not differed on matters of policies or politics. The Sena’s mouthpiece Saamana became a weapon to fire salvos not only against the Chief Minister but also Prime Minister Narendra Modi. From equating the Modi-led BJP to Aurangzeb’s army to firing barbs at the Chief Minister for failing to show “56-inch chest” over the Ae Dil Hai Mushkil row, the Sena minced no words in its tirade against its ally. For its part, the BJP left it to its second-rung leaders to take the Sena head-on and expose its “mafia” and “corruption” raj in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).
A BJP Cabinet minister said, “In coalition politics, conflict is in-built. The Sena’s problem is, it wants to regain its leading party status in Maharashtra vis-a-vis the BJP. They can get mileage only if they target the PM or CM.”
According to senior commentator on Maharashtra politics, Abhay Deshpande, “The Congress-NCP differences were worse and they plotted to undermine each other’s growth. But when it came to public face, they had a mechanism to defuse the differences, which is lacking in the Sena-BJP alliance.”
While describing the Sena-BJP alliance as a “marriage of convenience” where partners are constantly quarreling with each other, he said, “I don’t see these developments affecting the government.”
Both Sena and BJP officials admit, “When it comes to personal rapport, Fadnavis and Uddhav are on excellent terms, speaking on the phone regularly and ironing out issues.”
The Sena is trying its best to get the BJP onboard for a poll partnership in the 2017 BMC elections. On its part, the BJP has taken the first step by sewing up the alliance for 212 municipal councils and panchayats. It impressed on the Sena that their alliance would help consolidate their base against the Congress-NCP. It was conveyed that if they contest alone, it would neither help the Sena nor the BJP.