Launching a sharp attack on the central government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Shiv Sena, a BJP ally for over two decades, announced Tuesday that it would contest the Lok Sabha elections and the Maharashtra assembly elections, both in 2019, on its own.
At a meeting of the party’s national executive, Sena leaders passed a resolution to contest all elections independently, almost a year after their president Uddhav Thackeray called off seat-sharing talks with the BJP ahead of elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. Reacting to the announcement, made on the birth anniversary of Sena founder Bal Thackeray, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said in Davos that the BJP-Sena state government would complete its full term. Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shellar said the “loss will be for Sena” and that his party was ready to face polls “on its own strength”.
The Sena’s announcement came on a day the party re-elected Uddhav Thackeray as its chief and officially inducted his son and Yuva Sena chief Aaditya Thackeray into the Sena’s core leadership by assigning him the title of “neta”. Tuesday’s resolution, read out by Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut and seconded by Rajya Sabha MP Anil Desai, was an official confirmation of the Sena’s intent to break away from the BJP, after over three years of sharing power in Maharashtra in a fractious relationship.
In the run-up to the assembly elections in 2014, the two decided to call off their alliance, but came together to tie up after the polls. In a 30-minute address to delegates at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Indoor Stadium in Worli, Thackeray launched a frontal attack on the Centre and Prime Minister Modi.
“When leaders from outside visit India, they are taken to Ahmedabad. At a time when there is conflict in Kashmir, they should be taken to Lal Chowk, and you should fly the tricolour there. Why are you flying kites in Ahmedabad? People feel that they have a strong PM but a sovereign country’s PM is flying kites with other leaders. This is what pinches me,” Thackeray said.
On Republic Day last year, addressing a gathering of party workers, Thackeray had declared that the party would contest all state elections on its own. On Tuesday, he reiterated that decision and added that the Sena would contest elections across the country on the issue of Hindutva.
Calling the Hindutva practised by other parties “adulterated”, he said, “Over the years, we have taken care of these political parties and made them grow. We never fought elections on our own because we did not want a split in Hindu votes. Today, unwanted people clinging on to Hindutva have climbed on our heads. We never fought elections outside Maharashtra but today I announce that Shiv Sena will fight elections in each state. Win or lose, we will not let go of Hindutva.”
Thackeray also targeted Union Minister for Road Transport and Shipping Nitin Gadkari’s comments on Indian Navy officers seeking homes in south Mumbai. “What Nitin Gadkari said made me very angry. He said that he was in power. He asked what work the Navy has in Mumbai and asked them to go to the border. Our forces are defending our borders and conducting surgical strikes, why are you taking credit for their work?” Thackeray said.
He questioned whether BJP leaders had it in them to pick up guns and guard the border.
Claiming that large sections of Indians believe that the BJP has come to power by manipulating electronic voting machines, he said the country’s economy was in dire straits. “Whenever elections come they say ‘Acche Din aayenge’ but have they come yet? We do not know if the country is going forward or whether it is going backward. Industries are shutting down, unemployment is increasing,” he said.
If cow slaughter is a crime, than telling lies to win elections should be punishable too, he said. “You ban cow slaughter, you should ban telling lies as well. If you make lying punishable, look at who all will end up behind bars,” Thackeray said. Contending that there was no difference between the current central government and the previous Congress-led UPA regime, he said the Shiv Sena could be a political alternative.
“In the Gujarat election, Congress went forward and the BJP slid. We are not happy or sad for either of them, but if there had been an alternative including a regional party, the people would have elected it instead. We need to fill this void,” he said. Thackeray also took on the BJP-led government in Maharashtra, alleging that it was spending money only on advertisements.
“The spending on schemes is zero and money is being spent on advertisements. If this government is running on advertisements, then we have a right to pull it down and bring in Shivshahi, at least in Maharashtra,” Thackeray said.
The party, meanwhile, also elevated Shiv Sena minister Eknath Shinde, and MPs Chandrakant Khaire, Anant Geete and Anandrao Adsul, as “netas” to increase the number of leaders in its core leadership to 13.
Following the Sena’s decision, Chief Minister Fadnavis said, “Let us wait. They (Shiv Sena) have been saying many things… As of now, we (Shiv Sena and BJP) are in the government. This government will complete its full term, whatever it takes. I am confident of the next term also.” Mumbai BJP president Shellar struck a defiant note and said, “The BJP was ready for a pre-poll alliance with Shiv Sena for the next elections. But they are talking of going to polls alone. If they don’t want an alliance, the BJP is prepared to face the polls on its own strength, so are the people. The loss will be for Sena. This is our evaluation based on ground reality.”