It is not mere coincidence that soon after NCP chief Sharad Pawar said supporting the BJP government was not an onerous job for his party, the Shiv Sena decided to effect some changes in its panel of spokespersons and relieved MP Sanjay Raut from the job. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’s statement — that the criticism he had to face in the three days after winning the vote of confidence was more than what he had come across in his 22-year-long political career — also comes at a crucial time.
It seems the time for political realignment has come, albeit earlier than it was expected. Sena man Raut had to go following his impromptu reaction to Pawar’s statement while addressing his party men at Alibaug. Raut had already been on the BJP’s radar for his stinging remarks and writings in party mouthpiece Saamana. For the BJP, Sena’s decision comes at a time when different voices are emanating within the party over taking NCP’s support to run the state government.
Fadnavis’s statement shows what he went through after winning the vote of confidence. There is a general feeling that people of the state have not taken to BJP’s decision to accept NCP’s support. On the other side, Pawar’s statement and the flip-flop was an attempt to mollycoddle a section within his party, which is unhappy over them backing the government. But, it gave a signal to the BJP to work on stabilising its government.
In this endeavour, no party other than the Shiv Sena was available as an option for the BJP. Accordingly, a positive development came when changes were made in the panel of Sena spokespersons. Soon after, Union Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu, too, had a meeting with Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, which is enough to raise several eyebrows, as Prabhu is not in the good books of Sena and does not share cordial relations with the party leadership any more. He was not visible on the party dais in many years. BJP’s decision to induct him in the Union Cabinet after Sena refused to endorse his name is said to have widened the rift within the two parties. Against this backdrop, his meeting could not have gone ahead without prior approval from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah.
Amidst this, State Cooperatives Minister Chandrakant Patil, an influential man in the BJP who is also close to the RSS and Amit Shah, said Sena would be part of the cabinet expansion due in the coming days. Patil was the first person to be officially appointed by the party leaders in Delhi to initiate talks with the Sena soon after BJP emerged as the single largest political party.
There is proof to show that CM Fadnavis was averse to taking NCP’s support — a video clip of his interaction with a Marathi news channel where he strongly denied having any post-poll alliance with NCP was a big hit on social media. Hundreds of reactions with stinging remarks were posted on his Facebook page. A majority section within the state BJP is not too happy with the party’s decision to take NCP’s support, as they feel the elections were fought against the ruling coalition of which NCP was a partner.
The questions over BJP government’s majority, too, are unnerving the party organisation. A letter given to Governor C Vidyasagar Rao to stake claim to form the government, has the signatures of core committee members and leaders of four alliance partners. Ideally such a letter should contain signatures of all the MLAs. To end the cacophony of criticism and questions over valid majority, BJP might have thought of some strategy afresh.
Considering this, Shiv Sena has been successful in creating an atmosphere that if BJP seeks stability, it is not the NCP but the Sena’s support that matters. Subsequently, fresh talks between the BJP and Sena should not come as a surprise. The Sena is still a member of the NDA with Anant Geete as a member of the Modi cabinet. Despite a decision to be in the opposition in Maharashtra, it is a coalition partner at the Centre. Sena leaders have been targeting the state government and not the BJP these days. This newfound role comes after Sena’s decision to sit at Opposition benches in the state assembly.
It seems the stage is set for realignment at the state level, with desperation on part of BJP to find a permanent partner, and for the Sena to end simmering discontent among its cadre over losing an opportunity to go into power.
The writer is Political Editor of mid-day