The Shiv Sena and the BJP are the unhappiest couple in the Hindutva divided family. Uddhav Thackeray has taunted, abused and sniped at the Amit Shah-led BJP. Yet today, both men announced a ceasefire and renewed the BJP’s oldest alliance – 20 years and counting.
Their renewal of vows to contest the Lok Sabha and the assembly polls together was draped in the cloak of “nationalism” – the much-used political card of both the parties – when it was actually a case of pure political interests.
The Sena-BJP “yuti” (alliance) is now 30 years old, yet the Sena nearly broke it off this time after “roaring” full-throated abuse at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. The hard-ball strategy seems to have worked; in the Lok Sabha polls, the BJP will contest 25 seats and the Sena 23. Maharashtra is the second bellwether state after UP, sending 48 MPs to the Lok Sabha.
The division will be 50-50 for the assembly election, due later this year.
The side effect of the squabbles was on public display as Amit Shah had to go for the ritual genuflection at Matoshree – Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray’s Mumbai home – before the two, accompanied by Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, addressed a much-delayed presser.
This will ensure two things – the Maharashtra assembly will also vote with the general elections now barely weeks away. And Shah, who is one of the toughest bargainers in Indian politics, has had to compromise, just as he had to with the Janata Dal United in Bihar, to keep them on board.
In 2014, the two had contested the assembly polls separately. This time around, Shah made concessions to ensure that they were in alliance. The BJP had refused to play junior partner in the 2014 assembly polls. The BJP won 122 seats in the 288-member assembly and the Sena’s tally was 63.
The Sena has told Nitin Gadkari, the latest interlocutor, that it wants the chief minister’s post for Aditya Thackeray, the young son of Uddhav Thackeray, in an utterly audacious move. Gadkari was roped in to negotiate after Devendra Fadnavis baulked at the demand that would likely cost him his job if they won the assembly polls.
Political sources whisper that it was Rashmi Thackeray who was very keen to see her son in the Mantralaya. Gadkari seems to have succeeded in bringing the Thackerays around. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat also worked the phones from Nagpur to Matoshree to get the Tiger on board.
Shah and Thackeray, in their joint presser, announced the alliance but did not permit any questions, so perhaps the last word on that contested issue is still to be said.
Fadnavis is learnt to have offered a rotational plan for the chief minister’s job and this may be the likely compromise.
Interestingly, the idea to ask for the top job was whispered to the Thackerays by NCP chief Sharad Pawar, considered the wily fox of Maharashtra politics. Earlier, the Sena had two chief ministers – Manohar Joshi and Narayan Rane.
Meanwhile, after netting the Sena, Shah is now headed to Chennai to announce another ally in the NDA bag tomorrow; the formal alliance with AIADMK will be announced.
In the season of winning friends and netting allies, Shah also reached out to BJP founder LK Advani with a visit last week. 91-year-old Advani reportedly told him he would not contest another election. Shah then offered his ticket to either of his children, Pratibha or Jayant. No thanks, said Advani.
This new, accommodative Shah has been quite a shock both for his party and its putative allies.
The BJP did a lot of glad handing of Thackeray, who had last week sent his representative to an opposition protest.
So both the NDA and UPA alliances are done and dusted. The NCP and congress will kick off the Lok Sabha campaign with a joint rally in Nanded.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
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