The Shiv Sena was merrily punching above its weight. The poll outcome established that once for all. Having been knocked out semi-conscious, it has since been indulging in brinkmanship but here again it finds itself out-foxed and out-played. The erstwhile partner has called the Sena bluff, leaving it defenceless. It began with the Sena sources letting it known that both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP President Amit Shah had called Uddhav Thackeray, suggesting that the two were keen for the Sena to support a BJP government. Of course, that was not true. It turned out that it was Thackeray who had called Modi and Shah, ostensibly to congratulate them on the BJP’s sterling performance in the poll. But clearly after the use of downright abusive language for the PM, this was as near as Thackeray would get to make amends and in the process revive hope of the Sena stitching up the alliance with the BJP yet again. But thanks to the unilateral commitment of support from the NCP, the BJP seemed to be in no particular hurry to firm up the arrangement for government formation. In fact, the party put off the proposed meeting of the newly elected MLAs for electing its leaders. Therefore, the planned visit to Mumbai of the former BJP President Rajnath Singh was cancelled. Now, as the BJP played hard to get, the Sena’s anxiety mounted. It dispatched two of its senior emissaries to meet the top BJP leadership. On Wednesday, Anil Desai and Subhash Desai were in the capital to meet Shah and other BJP leaders. Even Thackeray was now ready to fly down to Delhi to meet Modi and Shah if it would help revive the alliance, it was conveyed to the BJP leadership. It was clear that the Sena’s resolve to sit out and allow the BJP to go and form the government off its own bat had completely broken. It now feared that the BJP might end up forming a minority government with the outside support of a dozen-odd unattached MLAs and of course rely on the NCP contingent bailing it out in the crucial trust vote. The Sena feared that once the BJP formed the government without it, there was a very good chance it would attract majority from other sources and last a full five-year term. Remember someone called Narasimha Rao and the minority government he led for five years at the Centre? In Maharashtra, the BJP was much better placed to get a majority of its own, since the actual gap has now narrowed down to a mere half-a-dozen seats even if one were to discount the unilateral NCP support. So, the Sena was back wearing sackcloth and ashes, wanting admittance in the BJP tent and keen for a share in the proposed ministerial cake. Admittedly, the BJP is helped immensely in out-smarting the Sena by the fact that aside from its superior numbers in the new House, it can rely on the central government and the Mumbai Raj Bhawan.
With such a weak hand, Thackeray could not have hoped to win the one-upmanship game, especially when he found himself up against the tough-to-crack Modi-Shah duo. It was a different BJP he was now up against. The reiteration of the ethnic Marathi identity card had proved a non-starter. Those abusive editorials in the party’s mouthpiece merely reflected an uncivilized mindset and a growing frustration of the party leadership. But now that the voters in Maharashtra have spoken firmly against the Sena’s overbearing attitude vis-a-vis the BJP, it should have the courage to atone for its folly and seek the friendship of its erstwhile ally in a genuine spirit of give and take. Maharashtra waits for a new government, one which can immediately begin to provide good governance to the long-suffering people. Fighting over lucrative portfolios or over the post of deputy chief minister will send out the wrong signal about the Sena being no different from the previous scam-ridden Congress-NCP regime. After the rude rebuff in the poll, the Sena should be careful not to give the impression that it is lusting for cash-rich ministries.