A battle for supremacy, ego battles, an alliance that wasn’t meant to be – terms that had lately come to define the alliance between the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party. Contrary to the shock that the fallout between the two right-wing parties is seen as creating, it should ideally come as no surprise. The two parties parted ways in the Maharashtra civic polls, in the immediate aftermath of the demonetisation decision, and it was just a matter of time before the divorce formalised on a larger level.
That the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance was on the tenterhooks was always an open secret. The tussle between the two parties – which continued to be in alliance in Maharashtra – had reached such lows by February last year that Congress legislator Nitesh Rane sent a formal request to The Guinness World Records asking that Shiv Sena be granted a record for threatening to withdraw support to the government the most number of times. The letter went viral, eliciting laughter online, while the diatribes from both sides continued.
A look at the relations between both parties in the past few years is sufficient to watch had reached a point of no return. The Shiv Sena, BJP’s biggest alliance partner in Maharashtra, has been persistent in its assault against the government. Be it on the issue of demonetisation, the issue of farm loan waiver or protests against the government – the BJP has come in for constant flak from the Shiv Sena.
Soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the demonetisation decision on November 8, 2016, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray said that the PM’s “demonetisation bomb had turned India into Hiroshima and Nagasaki”. It has also attacked the Centre on fuel prices, inflation and farmer suicides. In fact, the Sena even backed a farmers’ agitation and took to the streets against its own government. When the BJP picked Ram Nath Kovind, a Dalit, as its presidential candidate, the Sena dubbed it as “vote-bank politics”. The list is long and the fact that the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance was always a marriage of convenience, out there for all to see.
So, while the breakdown of the alliance was always coming, it is the timing that makes the decision peculiar. By announcing that it will be contesting the 2019 Lok Sabha elections alone, it has in a way recognised to the dramatic rise of the BJP in the state. Far from being totally dependent upon the Sena in Maharashtra, the BJP’s graph has been on the rise in the state. More importantly, the BJP has managed to capture the ‘Marathi’ vote, something that was bound to make the Shiv Sena uncomfortable.
Some election arithmetic puts this in perspective.
In the elections to the Maharashtra civic bodies in February last year, including the cash-rich BMC which has for long been Sena’s political lifeline, the BJP managed to give Sena a run for its money. From 28 seats in BMC polls in 2007, the BJP managed to bag 82 seats in 2017. Significantly, BJP’s tally was just two behind the Sena’s.
In the state assembly elections too, the BJP has risen from 54 seats in 2004 against 62 for the Sena to 122 seats in October 2014 against the Sena’s 63, catapulting the saffron party to the position of a senior partner in the state. Even in the current structure, the reason why Sena’s pressure tactics – as was evident from its constant threats to walk out of the alliance – did not work in its favour was that the BJP knew that it was on solid ground in the state. The BJP, on its own, is just 23 short of a majority and knew it won’t really have too much trouble in continuing to be in power if it managed to rope in some independent legislators and those from smaller parties.
For what its worth, the cat is out of the bag and there is little that the BJP may try and do to bring its ally back into the fold. The elections next year, however, will be a test of nerves for the Shiv Sena. By the looks of it, it will try and portray its fallout with the BJP as a sacrifice it made for the well-being of the electorate. It is going to pitch hard against the Devendra Fadnavis government’s policies and look to seize the space it has lost in wake of the BJP’s rising graph. What will be interesting to see is how it manages to deal with the challenges that it faces now.
Smaller parties are more likely to side with the BJP and the BJP’s relations with its smaller allies have only consolidated since 2014. Whether Sena’s farmers’ pitch — something that it has stood for traditionally — coupled with its attacks against the BJP government, manage to translate into votes will be something to watch out for. As for Devendra Fadnavis, who is in Davos to participate in the World Economic Forum, is unfazed by Shiv Sena’s latest outburst.
“It keeps happening,” Fadnavis told India Today referring to Sena’s decision to go it alone in 2019. “We will end this term continuing with the alliance. I am sure our work will get us the votes in the next elections too.”