Uddhav’s rhetoric may just turn out to be posturing ahead of bargaining!

Rohit Chandavarkar
Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Most insiders now say Shiv Sena is developing cold feet over fighting Lok Sabha polls independently

The recent war of words between BJP National President Amit Shah and Shiv Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray has grabbed headlines in the past few weeks. Amit Shah at a rally in Maharashtra said last week that the BJP is now mentally ready to fight all 48 seats of Lok Sabha in the state and party members should make the list of candidates and start preparations in that direction. In an obvious reply to this ‘challenge’ coming from the BJP top leader, Shiv Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray, at another farmer tally in the state, used the usual rhetorical jargon about Shiv Sena is invincible and unbeatable in Maharashtra. These challenges and counter challenges are making most voters and a section of the media think that the saffron alliance partners may now be on their way towards a breakup. However the picture behind the curtains according to Sena insiders is quite different and still very uncertain.    

Just about six months ago, Shiv Sena insiders were telling their journalists friends based in Mumbai with confidence that the party is now preparing in full swing to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha polls independently without any alliance with the BJP in all 48 constituencies in Maharashtra. Last year (2018) Shiv Sena even passed a resolution at its national convention at Goregaon in Mumbai which stated that they would contest all future polls independently. But now suddebly the winds are blowing in some other direction according to insiders. After touring many parts of Maharashtra, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray seems nervous and is consulting his top leadership from various parts of Maharashtra on whether its going to be worth it fighting without an alliance with their lost standing partner BJP.

The Sena-BJP alliance is the oldest political accord in India’s recent political history. Senior BJP leader Pramod Mahajan was the architect of this alliance which formally got established in late 1980s. Talks began in 1987 and both parties were together calling themselves partners of “BJP Sena Yuti” by 1989. Ever since there have been countless incidents of bickering, some polls when they fought against each other, some incidents of levelling allegations against each other. However finally they patched up and stuck together. Now since the Municipal polls of 2017 both alliance partners have again started indicating that they just might split and fight Lok Sabha polls independently. Uddhav Thackeray’s speeches in Maharashtra’s Marathwada region in the past few weeks give an indication that he is very frustrated with the performance of the state government and very concerned about the status of farmers all over Maharashtra and wants to fight the upcoming elections as if he is an opposition leader. But insiders close to Uddhav say he is in deep dilemma over whether he can really succeed doing this or will such a step by him will damage both Shiv Sena and the BJP badly. Nobody within the Sena clearly says why Uddhav is in such a dilemma since the past few weeks. Some point a finger at the closed door meeting BJP party President Amit Shah had with the Thackeray's at their residence in Mumbai some months ago and say perhaps the talks there made Uddhav change his mind about the resolution he passed at the Goregaon convention last year! 

The BJP however is seen very shrewdly pretending as if all is well and there was nothing wrong between them and the Sena . Speaking about the current situation Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis told media last week “We (BJP) and Shiv Sena have been natural allies for the past 30 years. If Shiv Sena decides to go away from us, who will they get into alliance with? And on what basis will such an alliance be formed? In the current political situation they cannot sustain without an alliance so it is only obvious that they will get into an alliance with the party they share their ideology with, so we are sure that the BJP Shiv Sena alliance will continue”.

Though it is very true that the BJP has done everything possible to keep its saffron alliance partner on the back-foot and at bay and have completely side-lined them in matters of governance in the state, the BJP also knows that with the opposition now fighting as a united force in Maharashtra they would need the Shiv Sena to be on their side. The Sena on the other hand feels that if fighting independently leads to a defeat for the BJP as well as them, it will be damaging for both. “Many of our senior leaders feel that staying in power as a secondary party would be better than sitting in the opposition and our advice to Uddhav ji is to bargain hard but fight as an NDA partner” said a senior Shiv Sena leader on condition of anonymity.

“There are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies in politics. Politics is a game of limitless possibilities and contradictions” said senior BJP leader and union minister Nitin Gadkari while speaking on the subject in Mumbai recently. Gadkari’s statement says it all!  Whatever the leaders might say from public platforms, it’s a fact that they understand their limitations and their compulsions and may after all fall in line. 

Former Union Minister and Nationalist Congress Party President Sharad Pawar said at a public meeting in Pune a few days ago that his guess was that BJP and Shiv Sena will fight as alliance partners in the upcoming Lok Sabha and will decide whether to stay together on the basis of results of those polls. Only time will tell if his words come true.

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