Dharmendra Jore: Different shades of saffron
Separated by ambition, the ideological twins, Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janta Party, fight a battle within
Post-Palghar, the Shiv Sena's path will not be strewn with roses. The BJP will also not have its run-up to the general and assembly elections very smooth, considering the electoral behaviour in the by-polls held in different parts of the country, including Maharashtra. The opposition is buoyed, and yet fraught with risks, because a bigger canvas would be under consideration while forming a formidable anti-BJP/Modi alliance. Consensus on leadership, whether it is national-level alliances or the state-level pacts, would not be easy to come by. Palghar was a definite example of a flawed policy of the Congress which ignored a heavyweight partner of the previous poll, a district-based party, and ultimately lost the deposit of its candidate.
It was the Congress which lost a lot in the two by-polls in Maharashtra whereas the other three majors — the BJP, Sena and Nationalist Congress Party — learned good lessons ahead of next year's big test. BJP got to know what the Sena was upto and what damage it could cause in future if not taken along; the Sena lost but upped its confidence by amassing votes in its maiden effort; NCP outsmarted the Congress as usual. It ensured that the seat, which was vacated by a Congressman, was given to it for contesting, and then worked meticulously on anti-incumbency to win Bhandara-Gondia.
Sena's dilemma continues
Repeated declarations that it would not pair with BJP notwithstanding, an internal tussle is seen within the Sena over the ultimate break-up. While the leaders who are enjoying government positions are not willing to part ways with BJP, a section that runs an anti-BJP campaign wants to quit the government immediately. It was this section that fuelled rumours that Uddhav Thackeray would pull the plug on the BJP the day the Palghar by-poll result was due.
Thackeray's body language suggested the party's dilemma when he chose not to attack BJP or its CM, but blamed the election commission for his defeat in Palghar. A subdued chief, unlike his self that was on display during campaigning, said after much coaxing by media persons, that he would not join hands with the BJP in future. He dodged a question whether he would oust the Devendra Fadnavis government.
Why is Sena delaying a step without which its anti-BJP mission will not be complete? Will those crumbled resignation letters come out just before the next polls? Experts say a mere resignation will not project the Sena as the main opposition. They say the party's promise will be reality only when it withdraws support to the state government. Similarly, the Sena's 18 MPs can cause a national crisis if they are asked to shun the NDA at the Centre.
Meanwhile, it is learned that the Sena has started scouting for Lok Sabha candidates. It has been sharing Lok Sabha seats with BJP for the past 25 years. A break-up in Lok Sabha polls would complete their separation which started with the 2014 Assembly elections. Expect Thackeray to speak more on the issue when he addresses a rally on the Sena's foundation day on June 19, at Worli's NSCI.
My way or the highway?
The ruthlessness that BJP showed in the past is missing when it discusses the partner now. “We are open to the pact with our ideological twin,” BJP says. But Sena demands sanmaan (honour) by the partner for curing its bruised ego. And BJP knows what that means. It means a free-hand in the departments that Sena holds in Mantralaya and the BMC where BJP sits as 'guardian of transparency'. It will also translate into a demand for a half share, maybe more than that in seat-sharing, which must be held under Thackeray's command. What's more, Sena expects seniors of the BJP to kneel before Thackeray at his Kalanagar residence, begging for an alliance. Just the way it would happen during the late Balasaheb's reign.
BJP is cautious. Instead of intimidating the Sena further, it is pursuing the partner by saying at public platforms that the Sena would lose more than anyone else in the race by going solo. BJP's surveys and data analysis have worked up a section in the Sena which has apparently told the leadership that if the party fought without BJP's crutches, it would retain only 9 Lok Sabha seats out of 18. To counter the fear, the Sena has taken up a study of all 48 segments where it wants to enlist prospective candidates and assess their respective strengths and weaknesses.
Fadnavis, who still enjoys a good rapport with Thackeray, has put the ball in Sena's court. He realises the need of a friend, and he should be the person instrumental in breaking up or joining hands. Meanwhile, let's watch out for the next round of the 'saffron scuffle'.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore Send your feedback to email@example.com
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