The BJP too would be making a mistake by accepting, if it gets, outside support of the NCP to form a government without the Shiv Sena.
Regardless of whether it forms the government or not in Maharashtra with the Shiv Sena’s support, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) must strategize to conduct politics in the State on its own strength. Even if it manages a rapprochement with the Sena, the BJP can no longer trust its long-time ally. In the last five years, despite being a partner in both Maharashtra and at the Centre, the Shiv Sena regularly took potshots at not just the BJP and the BJP-led NDA government, but also Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It behaved more like an opposition party. If the BJP thought that things would change after the alliance in the 2019 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, it must have now known better.
The Shiv Sena, from the moment the Assembly elections results were out, began issuing threats to the BJP. It raised the issue of having a Sena candidate as Chief Minister for half of the five-year tenure. This, it claimed, had been part of the 50:50 deal that BJP and Sena chiefs had worked out while forging a partnership for the Lok Sabha elections. While the 50:50 formula is indeed on record, what is unclear is whether it included the rotational chief ministership arrangement. The Sena merely assumes it was, but the reality is that such an important decision would have been announced separately, if it had been agreed upon.
It bluntly said that it no longer trusted the BJP and that it needed assurances in writing. Uddhav Thackeray’s party appeared determined to burn bridges.
Shiv Sena spokespersons then stepped up the pressure by stating that their party could explore other options if the BJP failed to fall in line. It was a tactically wrong remark because if there is anything that the BJP of Modi-Amit Shah abhors, it is arm-twisting. BJP leaders had for several days held themselves back, but after the Sena continued with its pressure tactics, they responded. Devendra Fadnavis made it clear that he would be Chief Minister for the full five-year term, and another party leader pointed out that the Sena’s obstinacy could lead to failure of government formation and the imposition of president’s Rule.
This was the time to reconcile, but the Sena was adamant. It began sending feelers to Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) for outside support. In response, various NCP leaders let it be known that if the Shiv Sena made a formal offer to seek its assistance, the party would consider it. The problem is that even with the NCP’s support — and the backing of independents — the numbers would not add up. The Sena was depending on Pawar’s ability to convince the Congress to also extend outside support to a Shiv Sena government. Even when it was far from clear that the Sena had mustered the numbers, a senior party leader claimed that it had already stitched up the backing of 170 MLAs. This was another brazen attempt by the Shiv Sena to arm-twist the BJP into accepting its demand.
Strangely, while the Shiv Sena has talked of honoring the people’s wishes, it worked towards making a mockery of that same mandate. The voters had rejected the Congress-NCP combine and given the BJP-Sena coalition a clear majority. It became incumbent on the Sena and the BJP to, therefore, work together and form a government. Perhaps, despite certain differences, that could have happened within days of the result, had not the Sena resorted to a belligerent position. It took its aggression to needless levels by taking a dig at the coalition that the BJP formed with Dushyant Chautala’s JJP in Haryana to form a government there. It bluntly said that it no longer trusted the BJP and that it needed assurances in writing. Uddhav Thackeray’s party appeared determined to burn bridges.
Assuming that the Shiv Sena somehow manages to form a government with outside support of the NCP and the Congress, it will not be a stable dispensation. The Sena may then have to return to the BJP and in an even more weakened position.
Even a cursory look at the ground situation would expose the Shiv Sena’s non-pragmatism. The party’s strength in the 288-member House is under 60 whereas the BJP has crossed the 100-mark. And yet the Sena wants a government headed by its candidate. In 2014, the BJP and the Shiv Sena fought Assembly elections separately and the BJP had come within striking distance of forming a government on its own. It fell a few seats short and, ironically enough, it was the NCP that had offered outside support to the BJP in case it wanted to proceed with government formation without the Sena. The same NCP is now mulling backing the Sena in case it wants to goiter a government without the BJP!
At the core of all problems lies a simple fact. The Shiv Sena has been unable to digest the new reality that the BJP is no longer its subordinate in Maharashtra. In its heyday, the regional party determined the number of seats the BJP would contest in the State, and even identified those seats. The BJP would meekly accept the dole, despite having tall leaders at the Centre, such as Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani, because it needed the Sena to remain relevant. All that changed after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when the BJP surged ahead. The Sena, finding itself in a position it had been accustomed to seeing its partner in, began to make desperate attempts to assert itself, often indulging in brinkmanship in the process. It somehow has failed to appreciate that the BJP is longer the party it was in the Vajpayee-Advani time, and the Shiv Sena is longer the party it was in Balasaheb Thackeray’s time.
Assuming that the Shiv Sena somehow manages to form a government with outside support of the NCP and the Congress, it will not be a stable dispensation. The Congress does not having a glittering record in this regard — it propped up the regimes of Charan Singh, Chandrashekhar, HD Deve Gowda and IK Gujral at the Centre, only to pull them down under one pretext or the other. The Sena may then have to return to the BJP and in an even more weakened position.
On the other hand, the BJP too would be making a mistake by accepting, if it gets, outside support of the NCP to form a government without the Shiv Sena. There are three reasons for that. The first is that the government would be at the mercy of the NCP which will seek its pound of flesh. The second is that it would be a complete betrayal of the public mandate. And the three is that a partnership between two opposite political poles can never last — the BJP cannot have forgotten its experience with Mehboob Mufti’s PDP in Jammu and Kashmir.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.