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Why is Shiv Sena celebrating Nitish Kumar's victory?

Ashwin Aghor | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 10:05 IST

The alliance

  • Shiv Sena and BJP have been steadfast allies for nearly 25 years
  • Relations soured after the Lok Sabha elections last year

The flashpoint

  • Sena organised an event celebrating Nitish Kumar\'s victory in Bihar
  • This is aimed at telling the BJP not to take it for granted

More in the story

  • What does the Sena really want?
  • Will the alliance break?

The Shiv Sena is the oldest ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party, having aligned with it two and a half decades back.

They have been together amidst all the ups and downs in politics. They have enjoyed the benefits of power as well as gone through the the struggle of being in Opposition.

Also read - After Bihar betrayal, Shiv Sena wants to harm BJP nationally

Even when other allies began deserting the BJP, the Shiv Sena remained steadfast in its friendship. However, something changed after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

The phenomenal victory of BJP under Narendra Modi scared not just opposing parties but its own rivals. While the BJP felt the need to test its own might, the Sena feared that the BJP was targeting its political space. As a result both parties went solo in the 2014 Assembly elections, which otherwise should have been a clean sweep for the alliance.

Sena's peeve

Shiv Sena had always been a Big Brother in the alliance in Maharashtra. Even in its wildest dreams, the Sena would never have thought that the BJP win more Assembly seats than them.

However the experiment ended in an embarrassment for the Sena. It was not only reduced to about half the BJP's tally, it was also forced to become part of the government in a humiliating manner.

Since then, the Sena has used every opportunity to attack the government, especially Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. It did not leave even a single chance to criticise state and central governments through editorials in its mouthpiece Saamana. Despite repeated attacks, BJP managed to maintain an upper hand in the alliance and the government.

Sena sought to cut the BJP to size during recently held Kalyan Dombivli Municipal Corporation (KDMC) elections.

The party feels humiliated that it has to play second fiddle to the BJP in Maharashtra

The KDMC election witnessed a fierce campaign with each ally trying to eliminate the other. Though Shiv Sena managed to emerge as single largest party, the BJP's tally grew from 9 to 42.

Sena had anticipated a clear majority but ultimately had to depend on the BJP to come in power.

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

Celebrating Nitish's victory

BJP's humiliating defeat in Bihar elections presented Shiv Sena with an opportunity to hit back at its ally. Without wasting a moment, Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray hailed Nitish Kumar's victory and party spokesperson Sanjay Raut called him a "mahanayak".

But Sena didn't stop at that. It organised a cultural event in Goregaon to celebrate the Mahagathbandhan's victory and, by extension, the BJP's defeat. This was also an attempt by the Sena to woo Bihari migrants, who form a considerable chunk of the electorate in Mumbai's western suburbs from Mahim to Borivali.

However, the main objective of the programme was to settle scores with BJP.

Justifying the event, local Shiv Sena leader Dilip Shinde said, "We had fielded a few candidates in Bihar. Though none of them won, two lakh people voted for the Sena. The event was to express our gratitude towards those voters and also to celebrate Nitish Kumar's victory. It has nothing to do with BJP."

The event featured big names in Bhojpuri music and dance Vijaylal Yadav, Varsha Tiwari and Alka Jha were the star attractions of the cultural programme.

The real agenda

According to veteran journalist Jatin Desai, BJP and Shiv Sena share a love hate relationship in Maharashtra. "Both want to get rid of each other but they cannot do so due to political compulsions. Nitish's swearing in ceremony was the biggest congregation of anti-BJP parties across the country. By sending senior leaders to the ceremony at Patna, Sena sent a clear signal to the BJP that it cannot be taken for granted."

Desai feels that perhaps Sena is flexing its muscles with an eye on an imminent Cabinet expansion in Maharashtra. "Shiv Sena ministers and MLAs have been complaining of humiliating treatment by BJP ministers. They are not involved in the decision making process. Sena does not hold any major ministry. The Sena hopes to get this rectified in the Cabinet expansion," he says.

However, he says that despite this constant tug-of-war, neither party will break the alliance.

Sena's muscle flexing could be aimed at extracting its pound of flesh during the Cabinet expansion

According to Desai, the biggest humiliation for the Sena is that it is being forced to play second fiddle to the BJP in the Maharashtra. "This is something the party had never done in the state during the last 25 years. As long as Bal Thackeray was alive, Shiv Sena always had the upper hand in the alliance. So much so that, veteran BJP leaders like LK Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee ensured that they did not displease him," he said.

After the Bihar defeat, the Shiv Sena leadership has managed to pressurise BJP to approve a memorial for Bal Thackeray at the mayor's bungalow in Shivaji Park, Dadar. However, even before the official order could be issued, the memorial has hit a few roadblocks.

Not only Congress and NCP, but also Raj Thackeray has opposed the memorial.

The biggest hurdle is the Supreme Court order, which prohibits conversion of government owned bungalows into memorials. It would be interesting to see, how the Sena overcomes this hurdle.

READ MORE - Divided they fall short: Sena & BJP suffer due to split in Kalyan-Dombivli

First published: 23 November 2015, 10:14 IST
Ashwin Aghor @CatchNews

Journalist based in Mumbai.