Maharashtra is no stranger to the politics of alliances, but the current government has taken ‘partnership’ to yet another level, thanks to the Shiv Sena’s posturing as a prime opposition party despite being in power with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The voters who propelled the BJP and Sena to a victory of more than 180 seats, albeit separately, are utterly confused. The parties people relegated to the opposition benches — the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party — find themselves jobless because of the Sena’s aggression against the Devendra Fadnavis government. And the Sena has a motive.
Sena’s fight, which started in December over the demand for lucrative departments in the government, later saw its junior ministers complain against BJP’s senior ministers (who hold the main charge) for not delegating work. At every cabinet meeting, Sena ministers take potshots at the BJP. In an attempt to prove its pro-farmer approach, the Sena has slammed the Fadnavis government time and again. Party president Uddhav Thackeray and his son Aaditya lead the attack from the front and party mouthpiece Saamana spits venom so fervently that the BJP has asked its ally to mind the edits in the newspaper.
But the BJP, too, has given it back. It accused Aaditya of proposing a pro-rich nightlife policy for Mumbai and Pune. Sena returned it by calling the railway budget a document without any vision. It joined a country-wide chorus against the BJP’s land acquisition bill. The general budget presented on Saturday did not yield big cheers from Sena leaders.
The Congress and NCP, who ruled the state together for 15 years before being defeated last October, would debate their differences publicly. Before them, the BJP-Sena combine had ruled the state for five years. The BJP was a minnow then in terms of legislative strength, and, hence, would get bullied by the Sena. The voters changed the positions after the two parted ways last year ahead of the assembly polls. The Sena, now a smaller partner, joined a post-poll alliance after sitting in opposition for three weeks.
Usually the arithmetic of benefit and loss in a particular policy decision decides the intensity of a tussle between the allies. The Congress and NCP would happily go back to business once their interests political and financial — were protected. The BJP and Sena haven’t yet reached any such agreement. Relations between the Congress and NCP soured beyond control when Prithviraj Chavan worked systematically to demolish the NCP. Perhaps, this is the only feat that Chavan will be remembered for, whenever modern politics in Maharashtra is chronicled. Fadnavis has been equally ruthless against the Sena. The Sena fears it will meet a similar fate at the hands of the BJP, but has found a little booster in the BJP’s crushing defeat in the Delhi assembly polls.
The backlash the BJP has received in many issues has helped the Sena to intensify a campaign to garner support ahead of the Mumbai civic polls to be held in February 2017. It is strategic because the two parties are unlikely to reach an agreement over sharing seats in Mumbai and other major corporations. In Mumbai, the Thackerays have taken up the cause of the people and environmentalists who are opposing Metro Line 3 and its depot in the Aarey Colony. Fadnavis isn’t ready to relent on the Metro, but has sided with people who oppose the Sena-sponsored development plan of the city. We can expect friction to continue, though the BJP has started wooing its partner in specific cases. PM Narendra Modi sent Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari to Uddhav on Friday, to win his support on the land acquisition bill. The two leaders are reported to have discussed state-related issues as well.
Fadnavis, on his part, has extended an olive branch to one of the Sena ministers: Eknath Shinde, who heads the MSRDC. He has asked Shinde to take charge of the Shivaji memorial in the sea and develop government land off the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. Something to cheer about, finally!
Tailpiece: Aaditya Thack-eray’s nightlife proposal a plan to tag city’s non-residential areas as entertainment zones – has the BJP and Sena leaders discussing the Thackeray scion’s business interests in one such precinct. The leaders have been circulating a web link of a newspaper report, which said an Aaditya-owned company operated out of Vaibhav Chambers in Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC), one of the areas proposed as a nightlife zone. The company deals in development, construction, transfer of development rights, and any other infrastructure work. We’re yet to hear a word on this from the young entrepreneur.
The writer is Political Editor of mid-day