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Divided Hindutva family: BJP-Sena rift may widen in the run-up to 2017 Mumbai polls

Sanjeev Shivadekar | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 3:21 IST

Just a day before the monsoon session begins, the BJP's oldest ally, the Shiv Sena voiced its displeasure at the way the former has been conducting itself. "BJP leaders used to keep allies in the loop, but not anymore," said Sena spokesperson Sanjay Raut.

As it is the Sena has made its opposition to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's land acquisition Bill abundantly clear. But the real tussle between the two saffron parties doesn't lie in the national capital, but in Mumbai.

Turbulent marriage

The BJP and Shiv Sena have had a turbulent relationship over the past one year.

Despite the alliance, Sena supremo Uddhav Thackeray has constantly been criticising the BJP. There's hardly a single issue of the Sena mouthpiece, Saamna, which doesn't end up slamming the BJP government in the state or the Centre. The joke doing the rounds is that the BJP is the only party that

has an opposition within the government. For instance, the Sena joined the Congress and NCP in demanding a complete loan waiver for distressed farmers in Maharashtra, a proposal that Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is opposed to.

BJP has launched Mission 100 for the Mumbai civic elections. This is making the Sena nervous

"Shiv Sena is leaving no stone unturned to embarrass the BJP on the farmers issue. On the other hand, BJP leaders are taking potshots at the Sena over civic amenities. Of late, (especially under Modi) BJP is behaving like the senior partner. If this attitude continues, the alliance could break," says senior journalist Kumar Ketkar.

Crisis management mechanisms between the two allies have also broken down. The leaders who forged the alliance - Bal Thackeray, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani and Pramod Mahajan - are no longer active. The Gen Next of both parties haven't been effective in preserving the relationship.

Mumbai matters

The Sena's main anxiety is preserving its hold over Mumbai. The party's fortunes are intricately linked to the city. Municipal elections in the city are due in 2017.

Though it was neighbouring Thane where the Shiv Sena first came to power in 1967, a year after the party was founded, it was Mumbai -- where it subsequently came to power in 1985 - that gave the party its fame and fortune. With the exception of a few years, the party has been ruling the Mumbai civic body continuously since 1985.

"BMC is the bread and butter of the Sena and Uddhav will fight tooth and nail to retain it," says a Sena veteran. .

Sena, with 76 corporators, controls the 227 member BMC in alliance with the BJP's 31 members. But earlier this year, BJP launched a Mission 100 for BMC, clearly indicating its ambitions of capturing the corporation on its own might. This is making the Sena nervous.

Will the Sena and BJP contest together or would they part ways like they did prior to the Assembly polls and then come together after the polls?

Going by Uddhav's aggressive stance on the BJP and the latter's expansionist mission, the prospect of an alliance looks bleak.

The Uddhav problem

Uddhav is both the strength and weakness of the Shiv Sena. Ever since he took over the reins of the party, he has succeeded in modernising the organisation. This is exemplified by the state-of-art head office at Sena Bhavan near Shivaji Park. He has ensured that the party's offices across the state get modern equipment for party propaganda. He has managed to refurbish the image of the Sena, which was earlier known for street violence and hooliganism.

However, Uddhav lacks the organisation skills and charisma of his father Bal Thackeray. He is also seen as much more aloof. Despite his larger-than-life image, Bal Thackeray was extremely accessible. He had also evolved an intelligence gathering mechanism through the educated office bearers of the Sthaniya Lokadhikar Samiti (SLS).

In contrast, Uddhav is notoriously inaccessible to even party leaders. Access to him is controlled by his close aides, who often come across as arrogant. The SLS has now been reduced to a non-political body and does very little intelligence gathering.

The run-up to the 2017 BMC elections will be Uddhav's biggest challenge. How he manages to strengthen the Sena and deal with the BJP will shape the party's fortune as it completes its golden jubilee next year.

First published: 20 July 2015, 11:55 IST