Away from the BJP, does Shiv Sena have a future?

Shiv Sena, with the support of 64 MLAs in the Assembly now, and three Members in the Rajya Sabha, is drifting closer to the UPA

NCP president Sharad Pawar (left) with Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray (PTI file photo) 
NCP president Sharad Pawar (left) with Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray (PTI file photo)

Bhagyashree Pande

The Shiv Sena has been drifting away from the BJP for some time now. The ugly exchange of words during the last fortnight, when Uddhav Thackeray called BJP leaders liars, more or less closed the possibilities of any immediate rapproachment between the two parties.

And even as the Bharatiya Janata Party appeared to have been successful in stopping the formation of a non-BJP government in Maharashtra this week, for the BJP the future in the state looks far from perfect.

Notwithstanding the imposition of President’s Rule and the Governor’s controversial, if not questionable, conduct, the Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, when he finally appeared before the media, was remarkably composed.

He parried barbs that the Sena teaming up with the Congress was being opportunistic and that it amounted to a betrayal of the mandate, by posing a counter question. What about BJP’s alliance with the PDP in J & K or with the JJP in Haryana or even with Nitish Kumar in Bihar, he asked, silencing the questioner.

Thackeray agreed that the Shiv Sena had aligned with the BJP on the issue of Hindu pride and the Ram temple. Hindutva issues, he said, had run their course and politics, he declared, was taking a different turn and a new kind of politics would play out now.

At his press conference he also hinted that the Shiv Sena would continue to hold discussions with the NCP and the Congress and explore the possibility of forming a government.

He later met with Congress leader Ahmed Patel even as NCP chief Sharad Pawar was telling the media that they were in no hurry to form the government. He also indicated that the three parties would be working on a Common Minimum Programme to be implemented in the state over the next five years.

The Shiv Sena, significantly, had in its manifesto spoken of giving reservation to Muslims. The INC-NCP Government in the state had promised reservation for Marathas and Muslims both but the BJP government had dropped reservation for the Muslims. By all accounts, this commitment is likely to figure prominently as and when the CMP is worked out.

Shiv Sena is indeed changing its spots, softening its stand on Hindutva and against North Indians while turning a new leaf.

***

Maharashtra appears to be in line to witness a phase of pragmatic politics with the Shiv Sena gradually shifting to a more ‘Development’ oriented politics. That winds of change were blowing became evident when both Uddhav Thackeray and Aditya Thackeray undertook tours to the interiors of the state to see the damage caused by unseasonable rain to the standing crops.

The visits drew a lot of media attention because till now Shiv Sena’s popularity was largely confined to urban centres and among industrial workers. It seemed content to govern municipalities and control Trade Unions. By voicing its concern for farmers, the Sena is not only sending a message to its supporters but also to other political parties.

The pragmatism could well be driven by the realisation that it is only a matter of time before the Sena would have to look for new allies. The BJP and Devendra Fadnavis had made it evident before the election that they would do everything to marginalise the Sena.

The fact that Shiv Sena emerged as the second largest party was due more to the anti-BJP sentiment among voters and its own core support base.

Some observers believe it is only a matter of time before the Shiv Sena makes common cause with NCP and the Congress and joins the UPA alliance. Thackeray may also have felt that in a highly industrialised state like Maharashtra, the Sena has to look beyond Hindutva if it wanted to survive and grow. It needed to follow inclusive policies, reach out to different groups of people and communities and even migrants.

Presently the Shiv Sena controls industrial cities near Mumbai like Thane, Nashik, Ahmednagar and Aurangabad while the hinterland is controlled by Congress, NCP and the BJP. From a urban, middle class party to a party with deeper roots in the state—is a course that the Sena now finds unavoidable.

If and when Shiv Sena joins the UPA, it will be a turning point for both. Shiv Sena not only enjoys the support of 64 MLAs including 56 of its own, six Independents and two from a smaller party, it also has three MPs in the Rajya Sabha.

In the state Assembly the combined strength of the Shiv Sena (64), NCP (54) and the Congress (44) would be 162, well above the 145 required to prove a majority, unless of course BJP succeeds in breaking the parties and lure some of their MLAs away. At the moment, it appears unlikely.

BJP may have bought some time by imposing President’s Rule, but it will miss the support of the three Sena members in the Rajya Sabha. With its below par performance in Haryana and Maharashtra, it will also go into Jharkhand and Bihar Assembly elections with a lot of baggage.

Calling a fresh election in the state is also fraught with risks for the BJP in view of the continuing agrarian crisis and farm suicides. The promised and much awaited central assistance to Maharashtra appears to have been shelved, further denting the image of the BJP and its central leaders in the state.

Meanwhile, several senior BJP leaders who were edged out of the party by Devendra Fadnavis, who denied them party ticket, are said to have become active in breaking the BJP in the state. They believe it is payback time.