On Monday, the Shiv Sena and the BJP announced an alliance for elections to the Lok Sabha and the Maharashtra Assembly. The BJP will contest 25 Lok Sabha seats and the Sena 23 — Maharashtra has 48 — followed by both parties contesting an equal number of seats in the 288-member Assembly.
Given the differences between them, what brings the BJP and the Shiv Sena together again?
Both the BJP and the Shiv Sena have stated that a triangular fight would not have been good for either of them, especially when the Congress and the NCP have announced they will be alliance in the Lok Sabha elections. The Congress-NCP alliance hopes to make deeper inroads into rural Maharashtra, which accounts for about half the state’s 48 seats.
How strongly have the two parties performed in recent elections?
In 2014, the BJP and the Sena won 41 Lok Sabha seats between them (another NDA partner won a 42nd), which was miles ahead of the Congress-NCP’s 6 seats. However, the Congress (18%) and the NCP (16%) added up to a vote share of 34%, which was more than the individual shares of either the BJP (28%) or the Sena (21%). It underlined the importance of the BJP and the Sena pooling their votes. In the Assembly elections that followed, the individual vote shares changed very marginally (see graph). With the BJP and the Sena having contested without an alliance, neither party had a majority on its own and had to come together again to form a government. In Maharashtra where coalition politics has dominated since 1995, no party can rely on a triangular or four-sided contest. In a series of meetings held between Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Sena president Uddhav Thackeray, the central issue discussed was how to ensure that their votes remain undivided.
What, then, was coming between them?
When Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray declared two years ago that they would go solo, he was positioning the Sena as an aggressive Opposition party in the state, and hoping to occupy the space held by Congress-NCP. The Sena had to look for Opposition space after the BJP had emerged the single largest party in Maharashtra. Later, the Sena had to backtrack because of pressure from most of its 18 Lok Sabha members and 63 MLAs, who were keen on an alliance with the BJP. Had they contested separately, the Sena would have faced a challenge in keeping its own house in order and holding back possible defections.
Does this coming together have any significance beyond Maharashtra?
Maharashtra’s 48 Lok Sabha seats, second only to UP’s 80, make the state crucial to the BJP’s efforts at returning to power. With the BSP and the Samajwadi Party having joined hands in UP, it challenges the NDA’s 73 seats won in 2014. Besides, various regional forces have rallied around the Congress.
What is the shape of the arrangement?
The Lok Sabha seat-sharing formula more or less conforms to previously stated positions, except that the BJP has agreed to concede the Palghar Lok Sabha seat to the Sena, giving it 23 and keeping 25. The Assembly shares, on the other hand, reflect more concessions. Although the BJP won 122 seats in 2014 to the Sena’s 63, it has agreed on an equal share after setting aside a few seats for smaller allies.
Now that they are together, what next?
The immediate challenge for both parties is to convince their cadre about the need for unity. The Sena is likely to tell sainiks about important posts it is likely to get in the power structure, and that it has forced the BJP to agree to various demands, including stopping of work at the refinery in Ratnagiri. Sena poll managers agree, however, that convincing voters would be more challenging, given the Sena’s previous statements against the BJP-led government at the Centre. Now, the Sena has cited the Pulwama terror attack as the reason to rejoin hands with the BJP. Sena chief Thackeray and BJP president Amit Shah have declared that the alliance is in the larger interest of the nation and Hindutva.