Times have changed and so has the relationship between the BJP and the Shiv Sena. The Sena, which was big brother for years, has now yielded to BJP pressure. The Sena, during the decades-long relationship always had the last word, with the late Bal Thackeray having the upper hand when it came to the BJP, its alliance partner.
It was the late Pramod Mahajan who was the chief architect of the alliance and also the keeper of peace when relations were strained. He would rush to Matoshree when required and persuade the Sena founder to keep the alliance alive.
Ties between the two right-wing parties who have nothing else in common but the Hindutva agenda, have seen many ups and downs. But after Pramod Mahajan’s demise in 2006, there was none left in the BJP to mend fences in times of crisis.
After Thackeray’s demise, a new era began, with the 2014 assembly election. The BJP announced that the age-old alliance with the Sena was over. It was veteran leader Eknath Khadse who made this historic announcement and the two parties contested the assembly election independently.
This had an impact on the opposing Congress-NCP alliance too, which followed suit, thereby making the Maharashtra state assembly election of 2014 a quadrangular contest.
The BJP emerged the single largest party and staked claim to form the government. Interestingly, despite the fact that the BJP did not have 145 MLAs of its own, it staked claim to form the government and it was the NCP that showed readiness to support it from outside.
NCP leader Praful Patel tweeted that the party would lend outside support to the BJP as the state couldn’t afford yet another election, owing to the financial condition of the state. Whether Patel had tweeted without the consent of the party president, Sharad Pawar is moot.
Eventually, the Sena decided to join the Devendra Fadnavis-led government. After ten BJP Ministers took oath on October 31, 2014, the Sena joined in, on December 5, 2014. This was the first challenge to the big brother by the BJP, clearly indicating the roles had reversed.
The Sena mouthpiece Saamana continued to criticise the BJP and the state government, with editor Sanjay Raut giving public statements that agonised the former.
It fell to Khadse, the seniormost minister in the Fadnavis cabinet to retaliate to the weekly criticism. The allies continued to be at loggerheads for almost two years, until the civic elections were due.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation is all-important for the Sena, since even during the Congress-NCP rule, with the exception of BJP-Sena government of 1995, the Congress had always agreed to give Mumbai to Shiv Sena in an unwritten agreement.
This is the reason why with the rise of the BJP as a national force to reckon with, the Congress is finding it difficult to get elected in Mumbai. The BMC has a budget of over Rs35,000 crore and fixed deposits worth over Rs50,000 crore. This is why there can be no comparison between even an MLA from outside Mumbai to a corporator from Mumbai, the stakes are so high.
It was on the eve of the 2017 BMC election that mudslinging plummeted to the nadir. None other than the Sena chief, Uddhav Thackeray referred to the BJP president Amit Shah as Afzal Khan, the lieutenant of Adilshah who had attempted to kill Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
Further, Uddhav called the BJP the army of Afzal Khan that had arrived to conquer Maharashtra. During the campaign for the Kalyan-Dombivli Municipal Corporation election, there was more to follow, this time from CM Fadnavis.
He challenged Sena leader and minister in his own cabinet, Ramdas Kadam, saying, ‘Tujha Pagaar Kiti, Tu Boltos Kiti?’ (Don’t be too big for your own boots).
The BJP is has been steadily moving from strength to strength. They are already No. 2 in the BMC and are now No. 1 in the state. This, coming from a party that had been relegated to only the deputy chief minister’s post in the mid-nineties.
—Shailendra Paranjape is a political commentator and journalist.