Maharashtra: Bitter end of a troubled marriage

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Published: November 11, 2019 11:16:13 PM

Maharashtra government formation: The relationship between the two saffron parties has never been smooth.

Maharashtra government formationMaharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis and Shiv Sena supremo Uddhav Thackeray. (File Photo)

Maharashtra Government Formation: Shiv Sena’s decision to join hands with the Congress and NCP to form the government in Maharashtra once again proves that there are no permanent allies or enemies in politics. Pre-poll alliances, even the long-term alliances like that of BJP and Shiv Sena that endured for over three decades can crumple under the weight of political ambitions and one-upmanship. This is not for the first time when a long-time BJP ally has broken relations with the saffron party over political ambitions. However, it appears that the BJP’s top brass was not prepared for this kind of eventuality as the party was confident of forming the government in the state under the leadership of Devendra Fadnavis, hoping that Shiv Sena will eventually come around. However, the party failed to realise that this time an alternate arrangement was possible should Shiv Sena decided to join hands with the BJP’s arch-rivals Congress and its regional ally Sharad Pawar led Nationalist Congress Party.

Shiv Sena was well aware of its bargaining strength this time and decided to use it to the hilt. The BJP’s reduced strength in Maharashtra assembly, as the party came down from 122 seats in 2014 to 105 seats in 2019, presented the Thackeray family-run party with a unique opportunity to seek the post of chief minister of the state on a rotational basis. Initially, it appeared unreasonable to some as Shiv Sena has nearly half the MLAs in comparison with the BJP’s tally in Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha. The BJP leadership was also under the impression that it needed to call the bluff of its junior alliance partner with whom it always had a troubled relationship.

However, this time the situation was different as Shiv Sena refused to budge on its demand for the post of chief minister for two-and-a-half years.

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Uddhav’s demand of CM’s post for a Shiv Sainik

Though the party president Uddhav Thackeray claimed that he wanted to fulfill his promise to his father Bala Saheb Thackeray that one day a Shiv Sainik (a member of Shiv Sena) will be chief minister of the state. This statement belies the truth as two Shiv Sainiks have already become the chief ministers of the state with the support of BJP.

Shiv Sena leader Manohar Joshi became the 12th chief minister of the state with the support of BJP in March 1995. He occupied the post for nearly four years and another Shiv Sainik Narayan Rane became the chief minister of BJP-Shiv Sena coalition for 8 months in February 1995 when he demitted office on January 31, 1995.

However, at that time the Shiv Sena had more seats (73) than the BJP (65). But even at that time, the BJP had a better strike rate in the state as the party had won 65 of the 116 seats contested by it, a success rate of 56% against Shiv Sena’s strike rate of just 43% as it won 73 of the total 169 seats contested by the party.

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A bitter repeat of 2014

This is not for the first time when the BJP and Shiv Sena have sparred like this over the government formation in the state. Both the parties fought assembly polls separately five years ago and the BJP won 122 seats and Shiv Sena 63 seats in the four-cornered contest as their arch-rivals NCP and the Congress also contested separately. While the NCP won 62 seats, the Congress won just 42 seats.

However, the two saffron parties were not able to reconcile their differences even after the election results were out. The continued tussle between the two parties delayed the government formation in Maharashtra and the state was put under the President’s rule for over a month, from September 28 to October 30, 2014. However, both the parties decided to bury their differences after RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat brokered a deal between the parties, paving the way for Devendra Fadnavis to become the state’s 18th chief minister.

No end to one-upmanship

Unlike 2014, when a deal was eventually brokered between the two partners, that have a history of public spats, the BJP was more assertive under the Modi-Shah duo and refused to yield to Uddhav Thackeray’s demand of chief minister’s post for a party worker, an oblique reference for his son and political heir Aditya Thackeray. 25-year-old Aditya Thackeray is the first member of the family to contest and win an election.

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Given the ground realities of Indian politics, Uddhav Thackeray’s demand of the chief minister’s post on a rotational basis does not appear to be without any basis. The country has a history of smaller parties taking advantage of fractured mandates to occupy the top post. Even in Haryana which went to polls with Maharashtra, the Jannayak Janta Party leader Dushyant Chautala demanded the post of the chief minister when the state headed for a fractured mandate. However, he soon fell in line when it became clear that the BJP was able to form the government without his support.

However, the BJP could not hope to repeat this strategy in Maharashtra as the party needs the support of 40 more MLAs to form the government in the state with no possibility of either the Congress or NCP backing it. This unique situation gave the Shiv Sena an upper hand this time and the BJP failed to counter an assertive Shiv Sena.

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