By Ashima Makhija
On 23rd January 2018, the Shiv Sena decided to come open on the status of its coalition with the Bharatiya Janata Party and contest the Maharashtra legislative assembly elections and the 2019 Lok Sabha polls alone. Sena leader Sanjay Raut moved the resolution at the party’s national executive committee meeting in Mumbai and it was passed unanimously.
The Shiv Sena feels that the BJP had been neglecting its concerns and that the Modi brand is losing popularity and credibility across the nation. Furthermore, pulling out of the alliance also allows the Sena regain the political grounds it has lost in Maharashtra and capitalise on the failures of the BJP-led Devendra Fadnavis government. This is a historic decision since it brings the 28-year-old BJP-Shiv Sena coalition to an end and dramatically changes the electoral battlefield in Maharashtra.
An expected fallout
The fallout between these two right-wing parties has not come as any surprise. The parties parted ways during the civic polls in Maharashtra, in the aftermath of demonetisation and it was only a matter of time till the breakout formalised at a larger level. The tussle between the two parties—which continues to be in alliance in Maharashtra—had reached an unprecedented low by February last year that Congress legislator Nitesh Rane had sent a formal request to The Guinness World Records demanding that Shiv Sena be granted a record for threatening to withdraw support from the government the most number of times.
There have been several instances of their troubled relations. When Prime Minister Modi announced the demonetisation decision on 8th November 2016, the Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray said that the PM’s “demonetisation bomb had turned India into Hiroshima and Nagasaki”. BJP’s decision to choose the Dalit leader, Ram Nath Kovind, as its presidential candidate was criticised by the Sena who claimed that the nomination underlined BJP’s “vote-bank politics”. It has targeted the Centre over inflation, fuel prices and the agrarian crisis. In fact, the Sena even backed a farmers’ agitation and took to the streets against its own government. Thus, for a long time, it has been clear that the alliance of these two saffron parties was simply a convenient marriage and given the number of issues between the partners, the fallout was inevitable.
Causes of the fallout
The BJP and Shiv Sena have had a long and tumultuous history. Yet, there are some specific reasons as to why the Sena decided to sound the death knell for its alliance this time.
The first and the most prominent cause is the growing influence and power of the BJP in Maharashtra. When the alliance first came to power in 1995, the BJP was vastly dependent on the Shiv Sena. However, this trend has undergone significant changes. In the state assembly elections, the BJP has risen from 54 seats against 62 for the Sena in 2004 to 122 seats against the Sena’s 63 in October 2014, catapulting the saffron party to the position of a senior partner in the state. Along similar lines, in the Lok Sabha polls of 2014, the BJP scored 23 seats while the Shiv Sena’s tally was 18.
In February last year, the BJP gave the Shiv Sena a run for its money in the Maharashtra civic polls. From 28 seats in BMC polls in 2007, the BJP managed to bag 82 seats in 2017. Significantly, BJP’s tally was just two behind the Sena’s.
Reactions of both the sides
Both the parties have always believed that India is not a truly secular country; rather it is a Hindu nation. This Hindutva politics has allowed them to amass Hindu voters across the state. However, the BJP has now made the Shiv Sena uncomfortable by encroaching Sena’s staple ‘Marathi’ vote-bank. By announcing that it will be contesting the 2019 Lok Sabha elections alone, it has in a way recognised the dramatic rise of the BJP in the state.
Being reduced to a junior ally in the alliance has been an irritant for the Sena. “The BJP has become arrogant after winning more seats in 2014 assembly elections, it has neglected its alliance partner in power-sharing,” said a senior Shiv Sena leader. By contesting solo, the Sena feels that it can regain its lost political grounds and strengthen the party cadre. The Sena can also project this divide as reflective of the party’s commitment towards the electorate and its aspirations.
Implications for Marathi politics
The split in the alliance will not mean the dissolution of the current government. Both the parties have decided to complete the full term in office. The BJP is confident that the break-up will hurt only the Shiv Sena. Senior BJP leaders and ministers said there was nothing new in the Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s address to Sena’s national executive on Tuesday and that BJP was always ready for elections on its own. A senior BJP leader said, “There has been a shift of grassroots from Congress, NCP, and Shiv Sena towards the BJP in the last three-four years. That is why he (Thackeray) has tried to give his cadres a programme for the next couple of years.”
Although the BJP is unafraid of this fallout, most political observers expect a split in the Hindu votes, which might hurt both the parties. Since both these right-wing saffron parties have repeatedly called out to the Hindus of Maharashtra, the fallout may damage the vote share of both the parties.
Sudheendra Kulkarni, Chairman of the Observer Research Foundation, a city-based think-tank, said the state’s politics is going to be much more “unstable, uncertain and unprincipled” in the future. Because of the four-way split in the state’s polity between Congress, NCP, BJP and Shiv Sena, the state’s politics has suffered immensely. Even the rival alliances (BJP-Shiv Sena, and Congress-NCP) are not cohesive. If the Congress-NCP alliance wants to take advantage of this lapse in the saffron coalition, it must immediately capitalise on the weaknesses, failures and political instability of the current regime. Although the Maharashtra polls are months away, the constantly changing equations and the realigning forces promise an intense electoral battle.
Featured Image Source: Flickr
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius