The saffron ideologies of both the parties brought them close, with the Yuti, another name for the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance, having been forged as early as 1989. In the 1990 state Assembly polls, the Sena-BJP alliance got 94 seats in all, emerging for the first time as a major opposition party in the state.
As their partnership completes three decades, the two parties have reversed the decision they took for the 2014 Assembly polls of not going together — something they did for the first time since 1989 – with the BJP overlooking stinging editorials in the Sena mouthpiece Saamna criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union minister Amit Shah and the party.
This, however, is not the first the BJP has extended its hand to the Sena. Earlier, the BJP had ignored the drubbing the Sena had received in the 2014 Assembly election and forged a post-poll alliance. And just few months ago, the BJP had even agreed for a 50:50 seat-sharing arrangement for the state polls even though the current seat-sharing arrangment doesn’t reflect that.
Love and hate
The two parties have sparred over various issues, like the one concerning Belgaum in 2009, the India-Pakistan cricket tour in 1999 and separate statehood for Vidarbha. This year, the absence of a solid Opposition front improves the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance’s chances to return to power with a considerable margin.
The divided objectives, however, pose a threat to the trust between the “natural allies”.
The BJP aims to reach the majority mark in Maharashtra on its own, riding on the confidence instilled into the party ranks after the saffron party’s seat tally in Maharashtra spiked up from 46 in 2009 to 122 in 2014. Since 2014, the BJP has gained control of a majority of the state’s civic bodies, councils and zilla parishads and today has the highest number of directly-elected chairpersons in municipal councils. The BJP controls over 160 out 226 municipal councils and 25 out of 34 zilla parishads.
With 126 seats for Sena, it’s clear that the BJP has once again managed to keep a check on Sena’s aspiration to become the ‘big brother’ in Maharashtra. Meanwhile, the Sena’s primary goal is to have a Thackeray at a seat of power. The ambition of the Uddhav Thackeray-led party, which currently has its strongholds limited to Maharashtra, to have a presence at the Centre may get a boost with BJP’s support, given the latter’s thumping majority in the Parliament complex.
NCP, Congress turncoats — good or bad
While the “thread of Hindutva” binds Sena and BJP, the Congress is facing leadership vaccum, even though two former chief ministers Prithviraj Chavan and Ashok Chavan have been given tickets. State party chief Balasaheb Thorat and the five working presidents under him have not been able to stem the exodus of leaders with the first list of BJP candidates containing the names of five former Congress leaders. Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) too suffered a jolt, with the first BJP list containing the names of four former NCP leaders.
Since the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, 24 senior leaders of the Congress and NCP — including 13 serving legislators and 10 former ministers — have switched over to either the BJP or the Sena. The question, however, is whether BJP party workers will support the campaigns of turncoats. The example of resignations by 200 Shiv Sena workers from Navi Mumbai to protest against BJP fielding ex-NCP leader Ganesh Naik is a case in point. Shiv Sena city unit chief Vijay Nahta wanted to contest from the seat.
Vijay Mane, Shiv Sena’s Navi Mumbai city chief, told Moneycontrol, “Around 20 years ago, this man (Naik) had forcefully removed the photo of our chief Balasaheb Thackeray from the municipal building. We have been in Sena for the past two decades and our party has a firm base in this region. We would rather sit at home than campaign for Naik.”
Giving the Ausa Assembly ticket to Abhimanyu Pawar, the personal assistant to Fadnavis, invited the ire of both BJP and Sena cadres, who spilled on to the streets and staged a ‘rasta roko’ protest, India Today reported. Shiv Sena workers in Nashik were angered when all the three tickets in the city being given to the BJP, with the Nashik West seat given to new entrant and former Maharashtra Navnirman Sena leader Rahul Dhikale. Sena’s Vilas Shinde also issued the threat of entering into a contest against BJP’s Nashik East candidate Seema Hire.
Senior leaders Vinod Tawde, Prakash Mehta and Eknath Khadse’s names were missing from the party’s list. Khadse then filed his nomination as an Independent candidate after which the party gave a ticket to his daughter Rohini Khadse in his place. The denial of tickets to leaders of the Sena and BJP may also lead to them joining the Opposition parties. This was seen when sitting NCP MLA Pandurang Barora joined the Shiv Sena in Thane district’s Shahpur constituency leading to ex-Sena MLA Daulat Daroda to switch seats to the NCP in the hope of getting a ticket.
To remedy rebellion within the party, the BJP has said that it will deploy senior leaders in Assembly constituencies it will contest from, Hindustan Times reported.
“We have at least three to five strong contenders for every seat and our biggest challenge is to manage (a potential) rebellion after distribution of tickets,” a BJP leader said. Another leader said the strategy to manage miffed leaders following ticket distribution ensured a large victory margin in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls. “Maharashtra is too big a state to allow any slip,” another BJP leader said.
Despite a regional connect, it won in almost half the seats as compared to the BJP in the 2014 Assembly polls (BJP won in 122 constituencies, Sena in 63). In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, BJP won in 23 constituencies and Sena in 18. Thus, it remains to be seen how the Sena will deal with defections and voices of protest within the party.
Aditya Thackeray, who has been fielded for the first time in a major election from the Worli constituency, has assured his supporters that the state will have a Shiv Sena chief minister this time. It remains to be seen if a similar model as Karnataka’s, where the Congress won more seats than the JD(S) but let the latter take up the chief minister’s post, will be followed.
Meanwhile, putting an amicable front, Fadnavis said on Friday, “The talks on seat sharing are going on. We don’t dictate terms to the Shiv Sena. We take decisions unitedly. There are several aspirants in both parties and we will definitely try to please them till the last moment.”
The allies have to shift focus from internal bickering to burning issues like dissatisfaction among farmers and Dalits, among others, which might provide a leverage to the Congress-NCP front, which is looking at usurping power after 2009.
BJP, Shiv Sena, Union Minister Ramdas Athawale’s Republican Party of India (A), Mahadev Jankar-led Rashtriya Samaj Paksh and Vinayak Mete-led Shiv Sangram will contest the 21 October Assembly elections in an alliance. The result will be announced on 24 October.