The Shiv Sena resolution passed at the party’s national executive in Mumbai on Tuesday reveals the confusion and contradictions that plague the party. The resolution makes it official that the party is no longer in alliance with the BJP. It says the Sena will hereafter contest elections across the country on its own, with Hindutva as its credo. But Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray had made similar announcements at the same time last year, and the party has so far refused to withdraw its 12 ministers in the Devendra Fadnavis ministry in Maharashtra and the minister at the Centre.
The fact is the Sena is in a bind over its ties with the BJP. Without BJP support, the Sena will fall short of a majority in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. But the Sena also recognises that the two decade-long alliance in Maharashtra has helped the BJP grow at its expense. For instance, the BJP vote share in assembly elections in Maharashtra has steadily increased from 10.71 per cent in 1990 to 14.02 per cent in 2009 and then jumped to 27.81 per cent in 2014 when it fought the polls on its own. In contrast, the Sena’s vote share has remained stagnant between 1990 and 2009: It has hovered around 16 per cent during this period, barring in 2004 when it won about 20 per cent votes. In 2014, it broke ties with the BJP and fielded candidates across the state only to finish a distant second behind the BJP with just 19.35 per cent votes.
The Sena’s coalition experience may be reflecting a pattern recognised across India: Wherever a regional party has tied up with the BJP, it has helped the latter expand its base, mostly at the expense of the local ally. In response, the party has tried to rebuild by reinventing itself as a more inclusive regional outfit — the outreach to Muslims by fielding candidates from the community in the last municipal election was an indication of this approach. But on the other hand, the party also seeks to emphasise its Hindutva credentials, which could, in turn, undermine its bid to assert itself as a regional outfit. In any case, the BJP has already established itself as the custodian of Hindu nationalism and the Sena is being overly ambitious if it thinks it could give a fight to its former ally with shrill rhetoric on Pakistan or Kashmir.
Recent elections indicate that the national polity may be veering towards national parties. In this scenario, it may be a tall order for the Sena to stay politically relevant outside its urban strongholds in Maharashtra.