In politics, there are often two ways to neutralise a challenge. One, by denying the contender what he or she is looking for. The other, by offering something that is not required. MNS chief Raj Thackeray has done the latter in a bid to stump his main rival, the Shiv Sena. His decision to extend support to the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, was so timed that it not only put the BJP’s oldest ally on the defensive, but also set a cat among the saffron pigeons.
That the over two-decade-old Sena-BJP alliance has been facing wear and tear is no longer a secret. One of the reasons is the way it is structured. According to the formula worked out, the BJP gets a bigger share of the seats in the Lok Sabha elections while the Sena retains a larger chunk of the state assembly seats. Out of Maharashtra’s 48 parliamentary seats, the BJP gets 26 and the Sena gets the rest. When it comes to the 288-member state assembly, the Sena gets to fight 171 seats while 117 are for the BJP. Interestingly, the number of seats each party contests has remained the same and, in most cases, the constituencies have not been changed either.
There was a fundamental flaw in this arrangement. It overlooked the fact that political arrangements are never static. It has resulted in a major handicap for the BJP, for it cannot expand its base in the 171 constituencies marked for the Sena. It’s not that the BJP wasn’t aware of this impediment when it surrendered to then Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s diktat. It accepted the secondary role because it had faith in the maverick Sena supremo. Things began to change when age started catching up with him. Once one of the most powerful leaders of the state, the Sena chief was helpless in his last years. Having had to face the deaths of his eldest son and wife, and with another son deserting him, the Sena chief was left with only one son, Uddhav, to rely on. These developments in Bal Thackeray’s personal life help us understand some of the decisions he was forced to take.
The biggest of these was anointing Uddhav as his successor in 2003, even though in the past he had made it abundantly clear that his nephew, Raj, would be heir to his political empire. Uddhav’s elevation signalled structural changes in the Sena. Till then, the Sena had been a loose organisation of lumpen elements. Uddhav tried to make it a more accommodative, more acceptable right-of-centre outfit. It was during his regime that the Sena tried to rope in Hindi- speaking leaders and launched campaigns like “Me Mumbaikar” to win over north Indians. In an outfit known for its street politics, and even for violence, Uddhav’s methodical debate-discussion approach was a complete mismatch. Many old timers were not continued…