Quit now, or call its bluff

The Shiv Sena decision to break with the BJP raises but only one question: Why wait till 2019, why not immediately? Is it because the Sena cannot bring itself up to shun power, and all that comes with, for its principles? If it is really unhappy with the arrangement with the BJP, it is only fair that it quits the State and central governments without any further delay. Indeed, the announcement emanating from the meeting of the newly-constituted national executive of the party in Mumbai on Tuesday underlines the Sena leadership’s reluctance to accept its junior status in the long-standing alliance with the BJP.

Even since the BJP claimed the pole position in Maharashtra politics, winning 23 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha to Sena’s 18, with another seat going to a third ally, Sena has been sulking. Breaking with the BJP in the Assembly poll in October and going it alone, the Sena won only 63, while the BJP nearly won a majority on its own with 122 seats. Even in the civic elections that followed the Assembly poll, barring Thane, the BJP did better than the Sena.  Unhappy at the loss of chief ministership to the BJP, Sena joined the alliance for the sake of power, though all the time indulging in needless recriminations against its senior partner. The point is simple: if you are locked in a bad marriage, it is better for the aggrieved party to make a clean break and try your luck elsewhere. But the Sena, loath to forgo the huge benefits that flow from wielding power, would neither quit nor would it behave as an ally.

Like a bad loser, unable to come to terms with its diminished status, it would constantly cry about the raw deal it has got from its partner and how it is a paragon of ideological purity while the senior ally has betrayed the saffron faith. Of course, this is all play-acting. The real motive is to somehow bully the BJP in order to get a few more crumbs of patronage from it. On its part, whether or not the BJP leadership realises it, there is no denying that the unending display of bad blood within the ruling alliance does not redound to the credit of either partner. People want governance, not a daily installment of a variation of the ‘saas-bau’ tamasha. The Sena might one day go soft on the Congress, another day rant against its alliance partner for betraying the Hindutva cause, yet another time blame it for the continuing problem in Kashmir, etc., etc. Yet, it knows as well as anyone else, no one takes it seriously because its criticism lacks sincerity. It should try and put its money where its mouth is, and part company with the BJP sooner than in 2019.

In any case, the ultimatum to quit the alliance in 2019 has made its continuing partnership with the BJP all the more tenuous, draining out the last ounce of credibility the marriage of convenience had in Maharashtra. In sum, if it has decided to part company with the BJP, it must do so now. The State continues to suffer from the decades-long agrarian distress, a crumbling civic infrastructure, poor delivery of welfare benefits to the weaker sections, a near-breakdown of the public transport systems in Mumbai, etc. Lest the Devendra Fadnavis Government is reduced to being a lame-duck, it is important that the BJP calls the Sena bluff. Admittedly, the Sena is in the habit of crying wolf in order to gain additional leeway from the senior partner, but instead of muddling along with one partner constantly on warpath, it is in the interest of the BJP itself to call its bluff. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis seems to have got so used to the sulks from the Sena that he no longer seems to notice them. But, it is time he did.

And instead of ‘marketing’ Maharashtra in Davos, he should try and shun the glamour and glitz of the chief ministerial post and put his nose to the grindstone which lies in Mumbai. He should exude an image of a serious doer, not of a lightweight who is happy basking in the immense good fortune of having been handpicked for the CM’s post by the party bosses in Delhi. To still the Sena noises should be his first priority. These detract from governance. Remember, the reason why the first Janata Government of Morarji Desai had lost the people’s mandate. It was not because it did not perform well. It did. But the people brought back the same Indira Gandhi of the Emergency fame because they said the Janata leaders cannot stop fighting among themselves. We need say no more.

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