BJP-Sena ties stable after local polls

Political equations may change during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and the state Assembly polls later.

The relationship between the BJP and the Shiv Sena, its ally for the last 25-plus years, had been tumultuous. Whether it is supporting Congress nominees — Pratibha Patil and Pranab Mukherjee in the presidential elections in 2002 and 2012 — targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi now, or for that matter criticising the BJP-led NDA government of A B Vajpayee despite being an alliance partner, the Sena-BJP ties have been closely followed in political circles.

Though the Sena deeply misses its founder Balasaheb Thackeray, its aggression against the BJP continues. Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray has left no stone unturned in showing displeasure against Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and top leaders, including Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.

However, the recently-concluded polls to local bodies in Maharashtra, that catapulted the BJP to the status of No. 1 party in this western state, has changed the political scene to a certain extent.

The polls to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), one of the largest civic bodies in Asia, saw the Sena and the BJP in a neck-to-neck contest with both claiming the post of mayor. But Fadnavis and Thackeray brokered peace and allowed Shiv Sena’s mayor to take charge in the oldest corporation of Asia. The BMC whose budget is Rs 37,052 crore — higher than that of some states — and has fixed deposits of Rs 51,000 crore, is a matter of prestige for the Sena.

Even while this was happening, the Sena targeted the Fadnavis government and demanded a loan waiver for the state’s distressed farmers. However, the Sena being given the mayor’s seat in Mumbai signals stability for the BJP-led saffron alliance government in the state, where the Sena is a partner. It appears that a balance of power has been established and that Fadnavis and Thackeray will keep each other in good humour.

But even though they maintain cordial relations, the rapport that late Bal Thackeray had with late Pramod Mahajan, or for that matter with late Gopi­nath Munde, is lacking now, and so are steps for rapprochement.

The situation had become so fragile that if the Sena had not have been allowed to assume the post of mayor safely, it could have had a bearing on the Fadnavis-led government because of the numbers.

In the 288-member Assembly, the BJP leads the tally with 122 followed by the Sena, 63, the Congress, 42, the NCP, 41, and other parties and independents at 20. The magic figure is 145. If the Sena had have walked out, the situation would have been different.

As the NCP would not have given support to the BJP, there was a possibility of the Congress and the NCP supporting the Sena taking the group’s tally to 146, one more than the magic figure. But the leaders of both the Sena and the BJP decided that it was better to stick to old allies whom they knew so well. Even the Congress and the NCP were in two minds over supporting the Sena, which they had branded as a communal party.

The Fadnavis government is half-way through its five year term. At present, with the kind of political equilibrium prevailing in the state, there is no immediate threat to the government. However, things may change as we near the Lok Sabha polls of 2019 and the subsequent polls to the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly.

In 2014, the Sena and the BJP had contested the Lok Sabha elections together but split up during the Assembly polls. Same was the case with the Congress and the Sharad Pawar-led NCP.

CM emerges stronger

Ahead of the mega municipal and local bodies polls in February, Thackeray had announced that the Sena would henceforth not have any electoral alliance with the BJP. He may stick to his words. However, one of the most interesting facts of the recent local polls is that Fadnavis has emerged stronger than before for leading the BJP to an impressive show.

On previous occasions, it was Mahajan who used to air dash and handle the Shiv Sena, but here the chief minister has singlehandedly managed all the affairs — he kept his government safe, kept charging at the Sena and also made BJP the No. 1 party. He enjoys full confidence of Modi-Shah duo, he has managed to sideline his detractors and those who could have challenged his position, and has also maintained his goodwill at Nagpur, his hometown and headquarters of the RSS.

Even amid a phase of political uncertainty, Fadnavis completed 25 years in politics. On February 22, 1992, a young Devendra Fadnavis had got elected as a corporator to the Nagpur Municipal Corporation and exactly 25 years later, on February 23, 2017, Fadnavis, now CM, positioned the BJP as the No. 1 party.

The Sena would continue to take some anti-BJP positions while remaining in the government, like the way it did by joining hands with the Opposition parties, the Congress and the NCP, in demanding loan waiver for farmers. But at the same time, the BJP which allowed the Sena to have its mayor and did not stake a claim to posts in the BMC, is expected to get back at the Sena at a later stage.

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