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Last resort: Shiv Sena tries to corner BJP by proposing Bhagwat as Prez

Ashwin Aghor | Updated on: 28 March 2017, 19:36 IST
(Saikat Paul/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images)

It's a tough time for the Shiv Sena. Its five-decade-old dream to rule Mumbai and Maharashtra on its own lies in tatters, and its deteriorating relationship with natural ally Bharatiya Janata Party seems to be at a point of no return.

What's worse, the BJP's excellent solo showing in the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai elections has left the Sena red-faced, since it was confident of drubbing the party it has always considered its little brother in the state. The Sena ended up with 84 seats and the BJP with 82.

Having failed to bully the little brother in the state Assembly and the MCGM, the Sena has now changed tack – it has proposed the name of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat for the post of President of India, which falls vacant when Pranab Mukherjee's term ends in July this year.

Shiv Sena leader and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut, while interacting with media, said: “Now that BJP is in power at the Centre, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat is the ideal choice for the post of the President. His election to the post will expedite the creation of a Hindu Rashtra.”

Last throw of the dice

The message is clear – after being snubbed on various fronts, and with the BJP considering calling for fresh elections, the Sena is now trying to find ways to gain the upper hand again.

Veteran political analyst Ganesh Torsekar says: “The current situation is such that if midterm polls happen now, the BJP will surely win more than 150 seats (out of 288), and the Shiv Sena will not be able to even retain its number (63). This is the biggest worry for Uddhav Thackeray, and this is the reason he has now played the Presidential election card by proposing RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat for the top job.”

Shiv Sena has always played a crucial role in the Presidential elections. The last three Presidents were elected only because the Shiv Sena supported them. This time too, the situation is not changed.

This is the last attempt by the Shiv Sena to corner the BJP. But this seems to be far from succeeding as no one, including BJP leaders, would want Bhagwat as President of India,” Torsekar says.

According to Abhay Deshpande, a Mumbai-based senior journalist and political analyst: “The Shiv Sena is like an Opposition party on the treasury benches. It is visibly rattled by the treatment it is getting from the BJP. Its main grudge is the unimportant portfolios allotted to its ministers, and the Sena has been expressing it time and again. Sena leaders are uncomfortable in sharing power with the BJP, but at the same time, don't want to walk out. They want the BJP to initiate the breaking of the alliance, so that they can play the martyr card.”

Deshpande feels that Bhagwat's name has been proposed for President only to create problems for the BJP, since it would be difficult for the party to either refuse or accept Bhagwat for the top job.

Shiv Sena might have thought that the proposal would split BJP leaders, and if the proposal is accepted, secular parties in the country, such as the Biju Janata Dal and others, would never vote for Bhagwat. But this is a a very long shot for the Shiv Sena, since it cannot impact the opinion of other Opposition parties with a mere 25,000 electoral college votes, as against the total of 5.5 lakh votes,” Deshpande says.

BJP consolidates, Sena loses ground

Torsekar says the BJP's consolidation across the state and the Shiv Sena's inability to build a mass base outside the Mumbai region has led to this position.

“The BJP has consolidated its position in the state after the recently-held civic elections, and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has emerged as the face of the party. He is getting support from all parts of the state. On the contrary, the Shiv Sena is still confined to Mumbai and Thane. Its leaders, barring a couple, are not ready to go beyond Mumbai and Thane. The party has no mass base in regions like Vidarbha, Marathwada and Konkan. This is the reason, BJP leaders are preparing to go for midterm polls in the state. They have entered into a truce with the Shiv Sena only for the Presidential elections,” he says.

The behaviour of the Shiv Sena over last two-and-a-half years has been that of an Opposition party. This has not only irked the BJP, but also the people of the state. There is growing anger against Shiv Sena, which was visible during the MCGM elections, when despite Uddhav Thackeray's emotional appeal, the party could manage to increase its tally by just nine seats, whereas Fadnavis successfully increased the BJP's number by 50 seats and became the king-maker.

“Shiv Sena used to be in a position to dictate terms. It always had more seats than the BJP in the Assembly. But this time, the situation has turned around, and Shiv Sena leaders are not ready to learn a lesson. By behaving like the Opposition, they are rapidly losing credibility. The BJP too, has started giving out signals that it is in no mood to pamper the Sena anymore,” he says Torsekar.

“This is the Shiv Sena's real grudge. It is being cut to size everywhere. It can let go the power in the state, but not in the MCGM. In a bid to show that they are still in a commanding position, Shiv Sena leaders have become a laughing stock thanks to their behaviour,” Torsekar feels.

Sena leaders have come across as desperate for power, who ready to go with anyone. This has the potential to irk Sena voters and diminish its chances to bypass the BJP if midterm polls were held now. This is the reason the Sena is not walking out of the government.

Sena split coming?

If sources in the BJP are to be believed, more than 50 Sena MLAs are willing to support the BJP, and midterm polls will prove to be fatal for the Sena. “We are ready for midterm polls any time. If that happens, we will win more than 150 seats in the Assembly. To be honest, we are fed up of the irresponsible behaviour of Shiv Sena leaders. It is better we part ways, and this is the right time. We are seriously contemplating snapping ties with the Sena, and if that happens, we will request the Governor to dissolve the Assembly,” said a senior BJP leader who did not wish to be named.

The Shiv Sena's highly unpredictable behaviour has become a major problem for its MLAs. More than the general public and supporters, Sena MLAs are confused about the party's stand on various issues.

The somersaults on various crucial issues, including crop loan waiver, has left many of us confused. Our party took up the issue long back and managed to exert pressure on the government. But when it was most important to stand by the issue during the budget session, our leaders mysteriously changed their stand. On one hand, we were ordered not to let the House function till complete crop loan waiver was announced, and on the other, nothing of that sort happened. Due to the unpredictable behavior of the leaders, many of us are seriously thinking of either joining BJP of supporting it,” said a senior Shiv Sena MLA, who did not wish to be named.

First published: 28 March 2017, 17:10 IST