The Shiv Sena-BJP alliance in Maharashtra, which had set up a grand alliance, the Mahayuti, with the Ramdas Athawale-led Republican Party of India and other smaller parties, is euphoric over its performance in the just-concluded general elections held for the 16th Lok Sabha.
This does not mean it will be a cakewalk for the alliance in the assembly elections scheduled for the latter half of 2014 in Maharashtra, as its success mostly rode on the back of the Modi wave that swept the country. However, it cannot be expected that the wave will last until the assembly elections.
There are going to be many hurdles that the saffron front must cross before it expects to seize power from the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) alliance, which ruled the state for the last fifteen years. The state Congress, as well as the Sharad Pawar-led NCP are already in analysis mode, to find out what went wrong during the Lok Sabha elections and make amends before they face the assembly elections. The anti-incumbency sentiment is going to be the main stumbling block the Congress-NCP must grapple with, if they are serious about retaining power in the state.
The BJP has performed well as compared to the Shiv Sena and with the BJP led government in saddle in Delhi which has got absolute majority, the relationship between the Shiv Sena and the BJP have undergone major shift. The tension between these two oldest political allies in the country is palpable as the Sena is upset over the kind of representation it got in the Modi government.
The party got only one cabinet berth as Anant Geete took oath as minister for heavy industries and public enterprises. However, the Sena is in no position to put pressure, like it did in the days of Balasaheb Thackeray, leading the party during the NDA’s first government led by Atal Behari Vajpayee, which was dependent on support from its partners.
The BJP has more than 272 MPs in the Parliament and the Modi government is not dependent for its survival on its NDA partners like the Sena, which puts severe restraints on the demands that its allies could make. Circles within the Sena as well as the state BJP apprehend that if this tension over representation is played out in full force, then it will vitiate the atmosphere and hurt the Mahayuti’s chances of seizing power from the Congress-NCP.
The BJP is already in firefighting mode and has assured the Sena that its demand for more representation would be considered at the time of cabinet expansion.
In 1999, the Sena, which had 15 MPs, had three ministers, and senior Sena leader Manohar Joshi was the Lok Sabha speaker. With 18 MPs, the Sena wants better representation, in view of the coming assembly elections. The Sena leaders do not want to suffer at the hands of the BJP which may act like Big Brother.
The BJP must also make allowances for Ramdas Athawale’s aspirations, as he has not been inducted into Modi’s cabinet. Raju Shetty of the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, the Rashtriya Samaj Party leader Mahadev Jankar also need to be accommodated, which will be quite a challenge too. The Sena-BJP has declared that it will face the coming assembly elections as Mahayuti.
The BJP has already begun preparations for the coming assembly elections. Now that two senior leaders – former deputy chief minister Gopinath Munde and former BJP president Nitin Gadkari have been included in the Modi overnment as senior cabinet ministers, the ground is open for younger generation leaders from the state. The state unit, leader Devendra Fadnavis, and the state legislative council opposition leader, Vinod Tawde, are Generation Next leaders and will be playing very significant roles in the coming elections.
Others who find berths in the Modi cabinet include Piyush Goel, Prakash Jawadekar and Raosaheb Danve from Jalna in the Marathwada region. Like the Modi government, the UPA II also had six ministers from the state, since Maharashtra is an important state for the Congress gameplan.
Extra care will have to be taken to ensure that the mercurial Ramdas Athawale remains within the Mahayuti and does not walk away due to shabby treatment.
The Sena will also have to worry about the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) during the coming assembly elections. There was confusion during the Lok Sabha elections and many MNS candidates could not retain their deposits. But again, the situation may not be the same in the assembly elections.
The MNS, which had set up candidates against the Sena, failed to make an impact, as Lok Sabha constituencies are huge and it is difficult to divide votes, but in smaller assembly segments, the MNS candidates can divide votes more effectively. Raj Thackeray’s next move and his party’s position on the coming assembly elections are eagerly awaited by other parties in the state.
The Congress-NCP also have another 100 days to rule and declare more schemes and take some politically vital decisions before the code of conduct comes into effect for the assembly elections.
The long-pending demand by the Maratha community for OBC status and job reservations for Muslims could be considered on an urgent basis, as suggested by Pawar. The ruling alliance is not going to give up so easily and will give the Mahayuti a run for its money. However, the saffron front clearly holds the advantage.
Prakash Bal Joshi