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Adding injury to insult: is the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance headed for a split

Ashwin Aghor | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 5:47 IST
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The confrontation

  • Shiv Sena boycotted PM Narendra Modi\'s events in Mumbai
  • It claims its leader Uddhav Thackeray wasn\'t personally invited
  • BJP leader says they are giving it back for 25 years of humiliation

The crisis

  • Shiv Sena seems to be angling to break up the alliance
  • BJP is using its electoral dominance to undermine the Sena in Mumbai
  • Analysts feel the alliance will split before the 2017 Mumbai civic polls

The "marriage of convenience" between the BJP and the Shiv Sena is on the rocks. It was always coming: the partners have never quite got along since fighting acrimoniously over seat sharing ahead of the election last year.

Relations didn't get any better even after they won, and agreed to share, power. The BJP, newly assertive after taking a lot more seats than the Sena, 122 to 63, for the first time in 25 years of their alliance, began playing the big brother.

The Sena wasn't pleased. Playing second fiddle to the BJP was especially painful because it had gone into the election confident of emerging as the largest party.

Not surprisingly, Sena leaders started publicly criticising the government, in the state as well as at the Centre. Its latest snub: boycott of the function where Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation for a BR Ambedkar memorial in Mumbai. Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray skipped it for a programme in Beed.

Uddhav Thackeray didn't want the alliance. He agreed to save the party from a split: Jatin Desai

The purported reason: the invitation to the Sena did not have Uddhav's name. "It was an insult to us. We are partners in the alliance and the BJP must give due respect to our leader. This attitude of their will not be tolerated at any cost," said a senior party leader. He didn't answer when asked why Uddhav should be personally invited for a state function.

BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari denied the claim. "Due invitations were extended to all dignitaries, including Uddhav Thackeray. We tried our best to get the Shiv Sena on board for the event. Our senior leader Prakash Mehta even met Uddhav Thackeray. But he preferred to go to Beed instead."

But why is the Sena playing hardball? Political analysts list out several reasons:

  • The party has lost much ground in the state, including its stronghold of Mumbai.
  • The party struggling to regain its base in Mumbai, a city it has ruled for over two decades.
  • Charges of corruption in the Sena-controlled BMC have rattled the party.
  • Its leadership never really wanted to be a junior partner in the government.

"It was a marriage of compulsion," said senior journalist Jatin Desai. "After the election, Shiv Sena was in trouble with just 63 MLAs. The party's cadre had waited long to return to power. And now that it was possible, they were not willing to remain in opposition."

"The leadership was adamant about not joining the government. But Uddhav Thackeray had to agree against his wish just to save the party, which was staring at a vertical split."

Does this mean the alliance won't last? Veteran political analyst Pratab Asbe gives it till the Mumbai civic polls scheduled for 2017.

"The recent events in Mumbai are self explanatory. The corruption charges against its leaders have left Shiv Sena red-faced. The BJP has cleverly capitalised on this to damage the Sena with an eye on the civic elections. One should not be surprised if the alliance breaks before then. It looks inevitable," he said.

As he pointed out that the BJP could easily have convinced Uddhav to attend the function.

"Other NDA leaders like Ramdas Athawale were honourably accommodated on dais with the prime minister. In case of Uddhav, they sent a second rung leader to pacify him, instead of some senior leader. It was an insult to him," Asbe said.

Is Shiv Sena using the BJP's 'insult' to Uddhav Thackeray as an excuse to break the alliance?

A senior BJP leader, in fact, admitted as much. "Shiv Sena has humiliated our leaders, including Atal Bihari Vajpayee, for the last 25 years. We don't find it wrong to give it back to them," the leader said.

But wouldn't this imperil the alliance and, thereby, the Devendra Fadnavis government?

"We are not at all worried whether the Shiv Sena quits NDA or not. We have consolidated our position enough to contest any election in the state on our own and win."

First published: 12 October 2015, 7:07 IST
 
Ashwin Aghor @CatchNews

Journalist based in Mumbai.

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