Better to have a known enemy than a friend who is not trustworthy and is unreliable. This truth summarizes the current relationship between NDA allies BJP and Shivsena. The two parties have been in alliance since 1989 after the Sena moved from advocating a pro-Marathi ideology to supporting a broader Hindu Nationalist agenda. For 25 years, the two parties contested the Lok Sabha elections, assembly elections and the BMC elections together. The two parties together formed a government in Maharashtra between 1995 and 1999. From 1999 to 2014, they were again together as the principal opposition. The BJP patriarchs Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani shared a very good working relationship with the Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackarey, although the BJP was always the junior partner in Maharashtra.
However, the relationship between the two parties soured after the 2014 General Elections when the Modi-led BJP won a staggering 282 seats and formed the government on its own. The 2014 General Elections was followed by elections in Maharashtra. The BJP, riding on the Modi wave, demanded 144 seats and later reduced the demand to 130 seats. The Shiv Sena offered 119 seats to the BJP and 18 seats to the smaller parties in the alliance keeping 151 seats for itself. After several rounds of negotiations, the parties did not reach a conclusion.
Thus, the BJP-Sena alliance ended after 25 years and the two parties contested the elections separately. However, when the results were announced, no party got a clear majority. The BJP was the single largest party with 122 seats followed by the the Sena with 63 seats. Although the NCP did offer outside support to the BJP government, the logical and sensible thing to do at that point in time was for the BJP and Shiv Sena to form the government together. The two parties are now part of the government together with Devendra Fadnavis becoming the chief minister.
Despite the two parties reconciling to form the government together in Maharashtra, the relationship between then has been sour.
The Shiv Sena seems to have a deep grudge against the BJP and has taken a jibe at them at every possible opportunity.
Udhhav Thackarey has mocked PM Modi and BJP president Amit Shah over the Delhi and Bihar electoral debacles, mentioning the decline in the leadership of Modi. During the JNU episode, the Shiv Sena unexpectedly offered support to Kanhaiya Kumar and said that it was incorrect to slap a sedition charge against him. This was in bad taste considering the fact that the Sena always prided itself on nationalism.
During the Bhopal jail breakout, the Sena again took a dig at the BJP saying it was a disgrace for the government. We also saw the two parties bickering over PM Modi laying the foundation stone for the Chhatrapati Shivaji statue in the Arabian Sea. The most disappointing instance when the Sena placed its personal enmity and ego over national interest has been its stand on the recent demonetization drive by the government. In a stinging attack on the NDA regime, the Sena described the present government as the worst regime in 10,000 years and that the BJP leaders are living in a fool’s paradise to think that the exercise would eradicate black money after putting women through great difficulty. When West Bengal CM didi Mamata Banerjee led parliamentarians to a march from Parliament house to Rashtrapati Bhavan to petition the president against the currency ban, the Sena also shamelessly joined the march.
Considering all the above instances, the BJP must now seriously consider whether it really wants such an ally in its ranks. The upcoming Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections is a good opportunity for the BJP to emerge as the dominant force in Mumbai and put the Sena in its place. The BJP top brass must fight it out alone in the BMC elections and must not go in for an alliance with the Sena.
And now, Shiv Sena has appealed to president Pranab Mukherjee to disallow the announcement of this year’s union budget as the Election Commission of India has already announced the poll dates for the Assembly elections in five states on Wednesday
Although the core issues in the BMC elections would be local ones, given the popularity of PM Modi and CM Fadnavis, there is every chance that the BJP would emerge as the single largest party in the 227 member house. Going by the Assembly election results, there BJP is ahead in 144 seats at the moment. Moreover, there is strong anti-incumbency in Mumbai owing to alleged corruption by the Shiv Sena. This is the right moment for the BJP to contest alone and try to take control of the BMC. If the BJP does manage to emerge as the single largest party in these elections, this will send a strong message to the Sena that people in every part of India are with PM Modi and for its survival, the Sena must behave as a reliable and responsible ally.
Today, the BJP is far ahead of the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and more than the BJP needing support from the Sena, it is the other way round. Yes, if the two parties completely snap ties, it would result in a hung assembly in Maharashtra, thereby providing an opportunity to the NCP to be king maker, but somewhere the Shiv Sena needs to be taught a lesson. The upcoming BMC polls is the right opportunity for the BJP to show the Sena its true place. The BJP must fight it out alone in the BMC polls and if it manages to become the single largest party, it would send a strong message to the Shiv Sena that it must behave as a responsible ally.