While the Shiv Sena has been going great lengths to assert its identity as the big brother in the alliance, the BJP under Modi-Shah is stronger than ever and is unlikely to be deterred by such pressure tactics.
Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut on Wednesday said that his party leaders want to see party chief Uddhav Thackeray’s son Aaditya Thackeray as the next chief minister of Maharashtra. Speaking to a news channel, Raut said that Maharashtra needs a young CM like Aaditya and the people of the state will accept him as their chief minister. Aaditya, the grandson of Bal Thackeray, currently heads the Yuva Sena — the youth wing of Shiv Sena.
Raut, however, confirmed that it has not been decided yet whether Aaditya will contest the upcoming assembly polls in the state and only Uddhav Thackeray will take a call on it. If the party chooses to field Aaditya in the upcoming elections in the state, it will be the first time a member of the family does so. No party leader from the Thackeray family — Balasaheb Thackeray, Uddhav Thackeray and Raj Thackeray — have contested an election.
Raut’s statement assumes significance as it comes just months ahead of crucial assembly polls in the state where the BJP and Shiv Sena are alliance partners. And the genesis of the remarks can be traced to the reconciliation and subsequent alliance between Shiv Sena and the saffron party just ahead of Lok Sabha elections 2019. The Shiv Sena had been very critical of the BJP in the last five years and even contested the last assembly elections separately.
Until 2014, the party always played big brother in Maharashtra. But after the saffron party under the leadership of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah managed to get full majority in the 2014 parliamentary elections, an emboldened BJP started playing hardball with Shiv Sena and asked for more seats in the state — Uddhav refused to budge that resulted in the separation of two old partners ahead of the 2014 Maharashtra Assembly elections.
However, the result saw the BJP emerge as the single largest party by winning 122 seats, 23 less than the required number to form the government in Maharashtra. Shiv Sena, stood at a distant second with 63 seats, but could not go with the Congress or NCP over ideological differences and decided to extend support to the BJP. It, however, kept attacking the Modi government at the Centre. While everyone expected that Shiv Sena could fight the recent general election independently, an announcement of a fresh alliance between the two parties just before the polls surprised political pundits.
Later came the revelation that the alliance was the outcome of an agreed formula under which there would be two CMs in the state from BJP and Shiv Sena — each for 2.5 years. While an agreement to this formula was attributed to sources in the Shiv Sena, the BJP maintained stoic silence on the matter and has not spoken of it yet. Days after the alliance, there were talks that the party with maximum numbers would get the chief ministerial berth. To this, senior Shiv Sena leader Ramdas Kadam responded saying that the BJP should break the alliance if it has problem with CM for 2.5 years formula.
Will BJP give in?
There are two reasons why the saffron party may not accede to Shiv Sena’s demand — fear of being accused of promoting a dynast and wasting its growing influence in the state. The BJP has been at the forefront in calling Rahul Gandhi a dynast who became the chief of Congress because of his surname. It has even accused the Gandhis of treating Congress like its personal fiefdom. It would be difficult for the BJP to defend its position if it accepts Aaditya for the CM or Deputy CM post in the state.
The BJP has now emerged even stronger and would want to leverage the momentum. In 2014, the BJP got 272 seats with over 31 per cent vote share. It has now 303 parliamentary seats with over 37 per cent vote share. In Maharashtra, the BJP has held its ground by winning 23 of 25 seats it contested. It had won a similar number of seats in 2014. The Shiv Sena, on the other hand, won 18 of 23 seats — last time it won a similar number of seats while contesting on just 20.
The BJP has a better strike rate than its local partner and there is little reason why the BJP, which has emerged stronger than before, will entertain the Shiv Sena’s tantrums. The Sena, on the other hand, must realise that the growing pan-India presence and acceptability of PM Modi has relegated it to the back seat. Such pressure tactics may help energise Sena’s cadre, it is unlikely that a stronger-than-before BJP will budge from its position.