It was a strong rebuff to the Uddhav Thackeray-led group’s contention that the BJP had pulled down “a Sena CM”; it sent a message about the BJP’s largeheartedness in accommodating allies; and it is set to help the BJP in the coming BMC polls.
All eyes in the state are now on polls to the prestigious, cash-rich body, which the Sena has controlled for the past 25 years.
A senior BJP functionary said that, in contrast, Uddhav looked too eager for the CM’s post. “After the 2019 Assembly elections, Uddhav Thackeray broke the Sena alliance with the BJP to join hands with the Congress and NCP and bargained for the post of CM (denied to him by the BJP, which won far more seats)… He could have made any Sena leader CM, but he did not do so. He grabbed the opportunity and occupied the post himself.”
Apart from departing from Balasaheb’s rule of not occupying public office but keeping the party under one’s control, Uddhav didn’t just become CM himself but gave a Cabinet portfolio to son Aaditya. Neither had any administrative experience.
Two-and-a-half years down the line, the BJP, which remains the single largest party with 106 MLAs, has the support of 123, including 17 Independents, in a House of 287. Shinde, who gets the CM post with BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis as Deputy CM, claims support of 50 MLAs, including 39 from the Shiv Sena.
The BJP is still smarting from the “hurt” inflicted by Uddhav’s 2019 split. And hence, party leaders say, while there are various versions as to what transpired in the past nine days, all of them were on the same page over the need to project Shinde as the face of the government.
By doing this, the BJP also robbed Uddhav of the opportunity to claim political mileage or sympathy by invoking his late father Bal Thackeray’s name. A BJP leader said: “This was the only way to ward off Uddhav. For the BJP, it is sweet revenge as well as a safety measure for the future. Now Shinde will carry the legacy of Bal Thackeray in the Shiv Sena. He will also remain loyal to the BJP as he needs our support in the political and legal battles ahead.”
BJP leaders admit some disappointment at being denied the top post, especially when Fadnavis’s acumen and strategising are believed to have led to the Sena split. However, even those disappointed acknowledge that Shinde taking the lead for now serves the party’s long-term goals better.
A party strategist said, “We are confident that, with Shinde at the helm, more Sainiks, in large numbers, will switch to our fold. The Shinde Sena will emerge more powerful vis-a-vis Uddhav.” With the 2024 Lok Sabha and Assembly polls not too far away, the blow to the Sena is expected to be hard enough for it not to recover in time.
The state’s 48 Lok Sabha seats make it an important factor at the Centre as well. The Shiv Sena has 19 MPs in the Lok Sabha and three in the Rajya Sabha. But how many of them are with the Shinde group is not yet clear.
As a Maratha leader, Shinde also gets the BJP a way into the community’s 30% population. The BJP had faced Maratha quota agitation during the last government, after angering the community by breaking the norm and picking a Brahmin as CM in Fadnavis. The BJP believes it can woo the poor Marathas and OBCs who are the Sena’s main support base with its support to Shinde.
The move also gives the BJP a handle against the Congress and NCP, which have tried to corner it on the issue.
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Insiders in the BJP claimed that Shinde never bargained for the CM’s post in their talks. “He just wanted his faction to have an alliance with the BJP, making Hindutva a common cause.”
As for the civic polls, the BJP expects gains both in BMC, and the Thane corporation, with Shinde exercising complete command over the latter.
Ironically, when the BJP and Sena came to power in 2014, the BJP had offered the Sena a Deputy CM post. Shinde was among the prime contenders. However, Uddhav had refused, fearing the emergence of Shinde as a rival parallel power centre.