In politics and chess, the opening — a combination of initial moves players make — impacts the middle game and endgame. Going by the Shiv Sena’s opening against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) since the middle of last year, political pundits do not see the Uddhav Thackeray-led outfit gaining advantage any time soon.
More than a month has passed since the Sena joined the BJP’s minority government. This period has witnessed disagreements between the two parties, which saw Uddhav counter-attacking the ally at Sena founder Bal Thackeray’s birth anniversary on January 23. The Sena president minced no words in criticising the BJP, but in doing so, smacked of attitude that befitted the opposition rather than a ruling partner.
Sample Uddhav’s statements. He assured the Shiv Sena would be the first to challenge the BJP if the government goes against the people. He emphasised the BJP needed the Sena most to ensure stability for the government and the state. He questioned the (Modi) wave, a key to BJP’s unprecedented success in Maharashtra’s assembly polls in October. He challenged the BJP to get the Article 370 — which grants special status to Jammu & Kashmir — scrapped. He chided BJP leaders who appealed to Hindus to have not less than 10 children, but at the same time demanded a Bharat Ratna for Hindu ideologue Veer Savarkar. Meanwhile, Uddhav’s son, Aditya, engaged the BJP leadership over its decision of replacing Marine Drive’s yellow lights with white LED lights, asking whether he should term it a dictatorship.
Uddhav’s ‘war cry’ makes one wonder whether the ‘king’ was compelled to join the battle with fewer pawns and pieces left on the board.
Uddhav and his Sena owe their desperation to the BJP’s unyielding ways. Once Sena’s prey, the BJP is now the hunter. The party has lapped up each opportunity, or created one, to smother the Sena after the Lok Sabha polls and has thrived on its mistakes before and after the Assembly polls. Currently, it has the Sena trapped in government with insignificant portfolios, leaving no scope to woo voters
with popular schemes. The Narendra Modi-Amit Shah-Devendra Fadnavis combination has dragged the Sena into a corner insufficient for manoeuvering effectively. The Sena has no other option but to intimidate its partner, and yet, stick, willingly or unwillingly, to power in the state and Centre.
The Sena ministers have realised their boss made a poor bargain in power sharing. One of them, Ramdas Kadam, even cautioned Fadnavis against receiving black money for raising funds, which the BJP dismissed as a poor joke. Kadam, who holds the environment department, is the angriest as he is set to lose powers to inspect and punish industries for violating pollution norms. His protest letter to the CM in this regard is yet to get an acknowledgement.
The CM has reduced Uddhav’s favourite, Industry Minister Subhash Desai, to a pawn in terms of policy making and interacting with investors. Desai expected to be part of the state delegation to the World Economic Summit in Davos, but the CM did not take him along. Desai is also upset because the BJP has given him a seat in the legislative council, which will end its term next year. The BJP has also appointed trusted bureaucrats in the departments held by Sena ministers. For instance, Diwakar Raote, transport minister, has to deal with a no-nonsense transport commissioner Mahesh Zagade. Eknath Shinde wonders what to do next. Health Minister Dr Deepak Sawant doesn’t have much mandate. Sena’s junior ministers are mere assistants to the senior BJP ministers.
The BJP is prepared to put the Sena in dire straits, especially in Mumbai and Thane, which will go to municipal polls in February 2017. It will ensure the Sena doesn’t get any credit for the work the state government does. The Sena itself needs to address some in-house concerns. Uddhav’s decision of ignoring elected MLAs for ministerial positions has discouraged the eligible and popular legislators. The ground soldiers — ‘sainiks’ — may soon start falling prey to wooing by the BJP.
Uddhav may just need to use his pieces without losing them, and prolong the middle game so that he has some firepower reserved for the endgame.
Dharmendra Jore is Political Editor, mid-day