Eye on Maharashtra: Sena-BJP divorce is final, Shah confirms

Despite their best efforts the BJP has been unable to either break the alliance or bring down the MVA government because of the finesse with which Uddhav Thackeray manages both bureaucrats and allies

Representative image
Representative image

Sujata Anandan

The angst of the BJP at getting outmanoeuvred by the Shiv Sena, supposedly its younger brother and its oldest ally, refuses to go away. So far it was former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis who was cribbing about being denied the high office by the Sena. Now Union Home minister Amit Shah has added his voice to the lament.

In Pune this week Shah tried to put the Shiv Sena on the mat in a two-pronged attack by stating that the BJP had made it clear to the Shiv Sena that Fadnavis would be the chief minister after the 2019 elections and the Shiv Sena stabbed the BJP in the back because Uddhav Thackeray wanted to be CM instead. And he added, for good measure, that the Sena had given up on Hindutva (by aligning with the Congress and NCP).

But while Uddhav was indeed seeking the job, he was doing so not for himself but for his son Aaditya. However, when the Maha Vikas Aghadi government was formed, Sharad Pawar felt as a first-time legislator Aaditya was too raw to be imposed as chief minister on veterans like former chief minister Ashok Chavan and former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar. He suggested that Uddhav take up the job instead, as despite his own relative inexperience, his maturity would allow him to conduct the government with more finesse -- and how right he was!

Despite their best efforts the BJP has been unable to either break the alliance or bring down the MVA government, essentially because of the finesse with which Uddhav Thackeray manages both bureaucrats and the allies. That must be really galling to the man who fancies himself as a modern-day Chanakya. Moreover, Shah must be aware of the fact that BJP has lost many of its core Maharashtrian voters to the Shiv Sena in the tussle between the two former allies over who was speaking the truth and who was lying over government formation in 2019. They opted for Uddhav Thackeray, exposing the traditional distrust that Maharashtrians have for the Gujaratis.

I have heard many a Maharashtrian say that they would have believed Nitin Gadkari if he had endorsed Shah’s assertion that he had made no promise to Uddhav Thackeray to share power equally in the Maharashtra government. But everytime he was asked, Gadkari shrugged it off saying he was not present at the negotiations and so could not comment.

Reading between the lines, the Maharashtrian BJP voter presumed Uddhav Thackeray was speaking the truth and that Shah had made an empty promise he never intended to keep just to get the Shiv Sena on board.

Maharashtrians do not like being taken for fools. The legend of how Afzal Khan pretended amity with Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj while all along intending to kill him is too enduring for them not to see the modern-day political parallel ironically, that the BJP always intended to destroy the Shiv Sena, hoping that a break-up of their alliance during the Modi wave in 2014 would accomplish the task. But like the warrior king after whom his party is named, Uddhav Thackeray escaped annihilation and that is a sore point with the BJP.

Now, though, Shah is attempting to kill several birds with one stone by targeting the Shiv Sena on Hindutva-- they have forgotten Hindutva, he says-- what Shah fails to realise is that the Shiv Sena is among the few regional parties with DMK and SAD, which have stood the test of time. It has reinvented itself every 25 years or so. It began in the 1960s with the Marathi Manoos and getting jobs for locals but once that task was accomplished, its founder Bal Thackeray refused to fade into oblivion. It was Balasaheb who first spotted the growing Hindu ire with Muslim ‘appeasement’ and remoulded his party to take up the Hindu cause which was quite deliberate without quite believing in the Hindutva of the RSS variety.

However, the newly formed BJP was still experimenting with Gandhian socialism and found Thackeray’s rhetoric too shrill even for its own growing fascination with the Ram temple. With his head start against Muslim appeasement, the BJP had no choice but to tie up with the Shiv Sena-- it also needed rabble-rousers in the absence of its own street fighters but now with forces like the Bajrang Dal, it has no need of the Sena any more.

But does the Sena need the BJP either? Not quite. Twenty-five years after its first metamorphosis, Uddhav Thackeray has reinvented the Shiv Sena again into a party that might be agreeable with most Hindus – believers in Ram but not really wishing any violence against Rahim. Soft secularism, in fact, is what appeals to most liberal Hindus.

Is it what now worries Shah? That with Ayodhya done and dusted, people might go back to their bread-and-butter issues-- for despite the hype over Kashi-Vishwanath, the frenzy and hysteria of Ayodhya were largely missing and that already there seems a growing Hindu ennui with the RSS? The BJP is obviously unable to provoke Muslims any longer and thus unable to consolidate the Hindu vote as of yore. That is also why they could be moving on to Christians who are also unlikely to give them any electoral mileage.

If so, Uddhav seems to have read the writing on the wall ahead of everybody else once again and is unlikely to be provoked into reacting to Shah’s needling.

Meanwhile the BJP continues to lose out to the MVA in Maharashtra.

(The writer is Consulting Editor, National Herald, Mumbai)

(Views are personal)

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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