An uncomfortable marriage between BJP and Shiv Sena

Nothing has more binding power than power. The Shiv Sena can vouch for this, as it has decided to continue in the BJP-led government in the state despite having so many issues with the ruling partner. We heard Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray assuring the people that the government will run as long as his party holds ministers’ offices in Mantralaya. Uddhav’s Dussehra speech wasn’t just about the commitment to stay in the government, but was more about making mischief for the BJP.

Uddhav Thackeray
Uddhav Thackeray

We know he lacks Bal Thackeray’s pyrotechnics, but Uddhav’s Shivaji Park show last week was one of his best political deliveries so far. He had unexpected aggression on display and gave his people robust hope. Uddhav’s gentle ways changed as he dished out plenty of threats to the BJP. It looked as if the Sena — which had sat in opposition for a month against the BJP last year, before joining the government — had once again taken up the role of the opposition.

Uddhav’s clarion call for hoisting the Sena’s saffron flag atop Mantralaya has never been so desperate. He left no stone unturned with his limited power of words. What has changed in the year since the Assembly polls to prompt Uddhav — who wasn’t as intense when he fought the BJP during the polls — to now gun for the ally?

It is the massive mandate that the BJP won last year, especially in Maharashtra, that has Uddhav worried. It had to have pinched worse when he lost his bargaining power and joined the government without any great returns. One year in the government hasn’t landed the Sena much, but has only added to its woes. The BJP has used power at its disposal to cut the Sena to size, wherever and whenever possible. Now, the municipal polls in Kalyan-Dombivli and small towns in the neighbourhood, have the BJP and Sena pitted against each other. The BJP clearly enjoys an edge over the Sena because of crucial departments that it has assured to put in service for the development of these towns.

What should really worry Uddhav is the BJP’s covert designs to render the Sena powerless, finishing the party in the state’s political scene. The BJP, initially a small coalition partner in many other states, has successfully sent its major allies to the dumping yards. In Maharashtra too, the BJP seems to be moving on the right track, rubbing the Sena the wrong way — be it in the government or outside it. Naturally, this situation demands that Uddhav react by treating BJP as the Sena’s ‘Enemy Number One’. Last year, he lost the race to the BJP in the Assembly polls. He cannot afford lethargy any longer, especially when the Mumbai civic polls are just 15 months away. These polls are equally important for the two ruling parties.

As expected this Dussehra, Uddhav turned the Sainiks’ attention towards issues where he believes the Sena could do better than the BJP. He played the Marathi card hard, and then harped on about the Hindutva sentiment that the Sainiks love to wear on their sleeves. He tried to unmask the BJP’s RSS-sponsored Hindutva as nothing but an unfulfilled promise of building a temple at Ayodhya. His sole intention was to tell the people how the BJP has failed to deliver the Ram Temple — a promise that had helped the BJP to win power in New Delhi in the ’90s, much before Narendra Modi’s victory last year. He dared the BJP to declare the country a Hindu nation if it was so concerned about cow slaughter. He demanded the Uniform Civil Code across the nation, and fanned anti-Muslim sentiments.

Uddhav is expected to continue to treat the BJP in a similar fashion, while the BJP is expected to ignore him as long as the government is safe. Uddhav has clearly said that he will not bring the BJP government down because the public mandate wants the two parties to run the government together. How long can this arrangement last? Uddhav should know.

The writer is Political Editor of mid-day

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