There is an uncanny resemblance between NDA alliance partners like Shiv Sena and disgruntled BJP leaders such as Arun Shourie. Both are raising enough barbs in the public domain against Shah Modi combine. The level of their criticism seems more acrimonious than BJP’s political enemies. May it be policies such as GST or demonetization or an election result, the Sena leadership is emboldened to criticize the BJP and the pattern seems to have made many cycles. Now it was time for another bout.
Assembly elections in Gujarat ended in an exciting photo finish. After initial shocking trends of showing Congress in the lead, the BJP managed to hold the fort. They obtained a simple majority beating several factors including caste politics, a rejuvenated Gandhi and decades of anti incumbency. However, the narrative in the opposition was that the BJP was humbled in its own den. The slide in its tally was attributed as some sort of a ‘moral victory’ for the Congress. This was dubbed as an emergence of a more rejuvenated grand old party. Although it was mere foolishness to see a rise of 16 seats as a significant dent, the opposition was quick to pick it up.
Anti Modi club which includes leaders such as Akhilesh Yadav or Mamata Banarjee expressed joy over supposed good performance by the Congress party. Shiv Sena was quick to join the chorus in gloating about the Rahul Gandhi factor. Senior Sena leader Sanjay Raut not only praised the newly appointed Congress president but also termed it as a defeat for the BJP. These fresh barbs may have been anticipated owing to strain in the ties. But the choice of words was more dampening than the opposition. No matter what, Shiv Sena is still the part of the NDA. This verbal attack demonstrated how far the relations between the saffron partners have plummeted over the advent of time.
Nevertheless, there are four reasons as to why the Sena is making these rhetorical outbursts. They are just empty vessels making noise and mere expressions of frustration.
Firstly, the Sena needs the BJP and it cannot grow in the state on its own. As Raut was training his eyes on the Gujarat elections, recently held municipal council elections in Maharashtra have portrayed a significant picture. BJP has won six of the ten municipal or Nagar Panchayats in the state. The results come at the backdrop of BJP trouncing other parties in assembly, Lok Sabha and Municipal corporation elections. In the past, the BJP romped home in eight of the ten corporations and humbled the Sena at BMC. Looking at this scenario, the Sena knows it will have to pay heavily in any advent of facing fresh elections. On the contrary, Maharashtra can be equated with the Bihar model where JD (U) needed the BJP to stay alive in the state polity. The same aspect can be ascribed for even the state of Maharashtra.
Secondly, the Sena may implode. There has been a lot of talk from Aditya Thackeray who retorted that the Sena will pull out and form a govt on its own in a year. This will have disastrous effects for the Sena if they think about the same. A prospective pull out may result in the Sena ministers defecting the party for the BJP. This is definitely possible owing to the fact that Shiv Sena tasted spoils of power after a long time and so their ministers will be reluctant to relinquish their ministries for the feud. Shiv Sena right now is caught in the midst of the organization and the govt. A pull out may just result into even breaking the party on those lines. So criticizing the BJP also gives the Sena that necessary diversion from their own problems.
Thirdly, the citadel of Shiv Sena power in the form of the BMC relies on the foundational support of the BJP. If the alliance breaks at the state govt, the BJP will have to pull the plug over the BMC. This will result into Sena losing its primary nerve centre of power. The BMC is the richest corporation in the country and it’s the only power centre of the Sena where it is not playing second fiddle to the BJP. In the BMC polls, the BJP managed to give Sena a tough fight and fell short by just a few seats to topple them for the single largest party in the corporation. But the Sena had to take support from the BJP to control the corporation. Senas prized asset will be in contention to fall in case the saffron partners part ways.
Fourthly, any advent of a snap poll will benefit the BJP. Shiv Sena knows this very well and is vary of the same. BJP is not only performing well in assemblies but also is making inroads at the grass root levels. Perhaps if assembly polls in Maharashtra are held at this time, Fadnavis govt may be able to get a full majority. This scenario is completely known to the Sena think tank and so the only tactic they are trying to apply is by unsettling the BJP with these taunts and remarks.
Interestingly, times have changed. There was a time during Thackeray-Mahajan era when the Sena used to play the role of a big brother. Owing to a simple majority for the BJP in 2014, NDA partners like Shiv Sena have been completely marginalized. Their attempts to hijack the govt which was reminiscent during coalition era have been effectively sidelined. And they also have to reluctantly be the junior partners in their alliance in Maharashtra where the BJP outperformed the Sena. And over top of it all, whenever the Sena has issued stinging diatribes in public, they have been wholly ignored by the BJP leadership. Their conspicuous silence has made the Sena more desperate and now with the advent of Gujarat elections, fresh salvo’s were fired from Matoshree.
This lack of a reaction from the BJP is the best strategy that can be employed. Shiv Sena has increased their verbal attacks on the BJP.
Nevertheless, the BJP has barring once or twice not even paid heed to their unceremonious ranting. Perhaps this mudslinging by the Sena will continue and become harsher but will be on the way to meet its natural death. A nervous yet resurgent Sena is trying its level best to upset the applecart but so far they have failed miserably on that front. As they termed Gujarat election results as a victory for the Gandhi scion, they went a step further as leaders like Mamata Banarjee had termed it as a ‘moral victory’.
As the Sena continues to sing paeans to the Congress, the mutual admiration society between the two dynasties may build up in the near future.
But there is no escaping that Shiv Sena is in a catch 22 situation. Mere howling to get media spotlight is not going to take the ‘son of the soils’ party anywhere.