The Shiv Sena is at possibly the most uncertain stage of its 48-year history as it debates whether it should join the BJP-led government. Party insiders say the top leadership and the circle around Uddhav Thackeray are keen to join, but many among the rank and file would rather stay out to avenge the way the BJP has been treating the Sena.
Some Sainiks have put up boards saying “Swabhiman Dakhva (Show some self-respect)”. “Shiv Sainiks put up boards appealing leaders to show self-respect. Hope @ShivSena leadership takes signals & prepare to sit in opposition,” former Sena Rajya Sabha MP Bharat Kumar Raut has tweeted. He told The Indian Express, “Earlier, I was insisting the two parties come together to form the government. But in view of the treatment meted out by the BJP and no respectable solution in sight, I am of the opinion that the Sena should not join.”
“Uddhav is like a man thrown into a river with his hands tied. He fears seniors will desert him if he keeps a distance from the BJP, but is also afraid of an exodus if he ties up with the BJP. The party is feeling Bal Thackeray’s absence,” a Sena leader said. What Uddhav needs to weigh before making the choice:
IF HE JOINS…
The Sena has been out of power in Maharashtra for 15 years and nine months. Only six Sena leaders who were part of the earlier Sena-BJP government are still active in politics. The newer crop who have not tasted power are keen to grab the opportunity. “A number of Sena leaders have been out of power too long. The ambitions of the younger lot are high. It is these leaders who are driving the Sena leadership in cosying up to the BJP,” journalist and Sena watcher Umesh Mohite said. “Joining hands with the BJP will ensure the party stays intact for now.”
The Sena has played big brother to the BJP in Maharashtra for decades. If it joins hands with the BJP, the Sena will now have to play second fiddle. “We will not play even second fiddle. We will be like a small instrument at the back of the orchestra whose sound is not even registered by the audience,” said a senior Sena leader. “The BJP is sparing no opportunity to humiliate the party. Imagine what they will do for five years when we are subservient to them. If the cadre gets disheartened by the BJP’s behaviour and decides to quit, the cadre-based party will be finished.”
Senior leaders, however, say there is no threat of a split. “We are a disciplined organisation. The cadre will abide with whatever decision the party president takes,” MP Gajanan Kirtikar said.
…AND IF he DOESN’T
A section of the party feels the Sena could regain lost ground if it plays the role of a constructive opposition. “Generally the second largest party in an assembly plays the role of the opposition,” a senior Sena leader said. Sena leaders feel that the party, by coming back on the streets and taking up people’s issues, would be able to carve out a space for itself and hope for a better performance in the next elections.
“There is a possibility that the party (if it stays out of power) could face defections and the threat of a split,” journalist Kumar Ketkar said. “They (defectors) would need nearly two-thirds support to engineer a split, which in today’s scenario seems unlikely, but it will be increasingly difficult for the Sena to sustain itself without power.”