With the Shiv Sena parting ways with the BJP, the 2019 poll battle just got more interesting
The Shiv Sena allied with the BJP at a time when the latter was considered a political untouchable, their ties cemented by the AB Vajpayee-LK Advani engagement with Balasaheb Thackeray despite the differences between them. Younger BJP leaders from Maharashtra including the late Pramod Mahajan and Gopinath Munde were always at hand to iron out any difficulties, reaching out to Manohar Joshi, Narayan Rane (then with the Shiv Sena) and the Thackeray cousins Uddhav and Raj as and when the need arose. But that era formally came to a close on Tuesday when the Shiv Sena announced the end of its alliance with the BJP for the Lok Sabha and Maharashtra Assembly elections scheduled for 2019. This separation was widely expected as the relationship between the two parties went South rather precipitately after the 2015 General Election since when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah have in a focused manner been working to expand the party’s support base in Maharashtra to Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray’s growing discomfort.
The issues between the two allies that have all added incrementally to this rupture are well-known – a bitter disagreement over the portfolios allocated to Shiv Sena members of the Maharashtra Cabinet headed by theBJP’s Devendra Fadnavis as Chief Minister and his turning down flat hisally’s demand for the post of Deputy Chief Minister; the seat-sharing formula for the last Assembly poll breaking down because the BJP was not willing to continue with the earlier arrangement wherein it got more seats for the Lok Sabha election and the Shiv Sena was the senior partner for the Assembly poll; the bitter falling out over the 2017 during election to the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation, India’s richest civic body with the erstwhile allies contesting separately; and a string of historical tensions including the Shiv Sena not voting for the NDA candidate in both 2007 and 2012 presidential elections and the appointment of Nitin Gadkari, seen as close to Raj Thackeray, as the BJP president in 2010.
What is of interest going forward, however, are the signals emanating fromthe Opposition camp as it tries to woo the Shiv Sena albeit warily given the propensity of the latter to go with the BJP when push comes to shove in a post-poll as was seen after the last Maharashtra and Mumbai civic polls.The Nationalist Congress Party of Sharad Pawar has already announced a “march to save the Constitution” in Mumbai today and the Trinamool Congress headed by Mamata Banerjee has already confirmed its participation. While the Shiv Sena is not expected to participate given it is still part of the Fadnanvis government in Maharashtra, both Pawar and Banerjee are known to be keen to get the party on board on in an Opposition alliance to take on the BJP in 2019. Uddhav, on the other hand, while keeping his options open, seems to have realized that with the BJP growing significantly in the State, the future of his party depends on the Shiv Sena retaining its middle/working class Maharashtrian vote in the Mumbai- Thane-Puna region and the Konkan belt.
If the Opposition can square the Congress, don’t be surprised if the Sena tiger is seen roaring at the BJP come 2019.