Amidst continued deadlock over seat sharing for the Maharashtra assembly, the BJP announced the end of the 25 year old alliance with Shiv Sena on Thursday evening. With only 2 weeks left for the Assembly Polls, scheduled for 15 October, the BJP has taken a big gamble standing independently for the election. The decision to split has angered the Shiv Sena and has invited backlash from RSS – both castigating the BJP for seeking seats rather than focusing on the real issues.
The split between BJP and Shiv Sena didn’t come as a surprise as the nature of the relation between the two parties had changed after the deaths of Bal Thackeray and BJP’s leader Gopinath Munde. Between looking for a larger seat share and difficulty in accepting Uddav Thackeray’s new leadership, the BJP had been trying to look for a way out of this alliance. The success in the Lok Sabha elections this May has made BJP more confident. The land slide victory in the parliamentary elections itself proves that the BJP can further its plans of expansion in Maharashtra without the Shiv Sena’s support.
The Lok Sabha win has made the BJP realize the need for a faster and stronger growth plan for the aspirational and impatient urban population. BJP no longer wishes to play the second fiddle in one of the most urbanized of Indian states that is Maharashtra. For the first time in 25 years, the BJP will not have the support of Shiv Sena; instead, it will contest with the rest of the ‘Mahayuti’ allies (which consist of Swabhimani Shetkari Sangathan, Republican Party of India, Rashtriya Samaj Party and Shiv Sangham).
The saffron alliance was formed in 1989 between the BJP and Shiv Sena, both placing high importance to the Hindutva ideology. Such a system would not work in the present time with the ‘ache din’ campaign and its consistent effort to resuscitate its image and reach a wider demography. Moreover, the original Shiv Sena is no longer the force it used to be in the Maharashtra politics, with the split between the Thackeray brothers. Uddav Thackeray will be contesting the election without his father for the first time. For Uddav, therefore, this election is one of survival. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if the Shiv Sena feels ‘betrayed’ by the BJP at this point.
The BJP, on its part, has hinted at a possible post poll alliance and asserted that their main target is the Congress-NCP. Maharashtra BJP chief Devendra Fadnavis reportedly promised that at no point during the campaign will BJP criticize its ally and hopefully they will remain ‘friends’. The BJP has thrown the Shiv Sena in a quandary, and that too at the last minute. The split is something that the Shiv Sena cannot afford at this point. Despite the slight setback in recently held assembly by-election in some states, BJP is still banking in the ‘Modi-effect’, his popularity will account for the votes from the urban middle class.
Alliances and coalitions help solidify the power structures between partners. In the BJP’s and Shiv Sena’s case, the coalition had helped build an empire. Together, the Shiv Sena and BJP had a good run – they formed the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). When they had started in 1989, both the BJP and Shiv Sena were fizzling out of people’s minds. At the time, the Bharatiya Janata Party was new and the Shiv Sena was losing its relevance because the old ‘sons of the soil’ cause did not work any-more. The alliance gradually found its presence and flourished in the state. Their popularity sky-rocketed and the rest is history. The first case of contention came when Raj Thackeray left the party and found the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (NMS), but the original party, in coalition with the BJP, had established a strong presence in the state. They were a consistent opposition to the Congress-NCP and realized that they were better together, up until now.
As mentioned earlier, the nature of relationship between the saffron allies had changed after the deaths of the main forces of the BJP—Shiv Sena as they were the glue that held the parties together. There were contentions internally, but both parties knew the importance of staying together. Mahajan’s brother in law, Gopinath Munde, was the only thread that held both the parties together. With his death, the bitterness between the allies grew over the problem of seat sharing. The BJP, at this point, wants more shares of seats instead of the 119 offered by the Shiv Sena. On top of that, the BJP is now eyeing the post of Chief Ministership and has no intention of being in the shadow of its ‘big brother’ any-more. And although the BJP has implied a future alliance, where does it place itself in the scheme of things? Does it mean that this particular election is an experiment to see if they are ready for a permanent split? Or does it mean that on the circumstance that it fails, it will look for a coalition again? Needless to say, the given situation has put into question BJP’s coalition tactics and the assembly polls will put it all in perspective.
With the decision made last Sunday, two things are clear – the first is the obvious, that the Maharashtra Polls 2014 will be a five cornered contest, with another split between the Congress and the NCP. The second is the fact that the BJP is riding on its confidence boost from the Lok Sabha elections and the Modi-effect. This has endangered the traditional big players and calls for some big last minute changes in its campaigning. If the BJP wins this election, it would confirm Modi’s success and his bankability, which could serve as a model for other states in the future.