By Bala Sai:
Maharashtra politics just witnessed a revolutionary twist. For the first time in 25 years, the saffron brothers-in-arms turned foes on the floor of the Maharashtra assembly today. The BJP-Shiv Sena bond, that had weathered many a storm before, finally crumbled. The gravity of the split can only be understood by the history of their association.
Shiv Sena, the older of the two, was founded in 1966 as a strongly Marathi construct, styling itself as the champion of the sons-of-the-soil, fighting for the rights of the Marathis. Through active anti-migrant slander and aggressive exhibitions of their chest-thumping Marathi pride, the party managed to acquire a strong root in the politics of the state. To stay afloat through the changes in political climate, the Shiv Sena, post 1970 gradually shifted from a staunchly Marathi to a fiercely Hindu nationalist ideology, straying into the usual haunts of the RSS and its political splinters, which would subsequently spawn the BJP.
The BJP, for most parts, seemed to have its hands on a control knob, increasing and decreasing its hindutva setting, watching its political fortunes rise and fall. Once a moderate stance failed, they resorted to raining a splurge of Hindutva rhetoric on the masses, to forge a massive nation-wide following, leading them to climb to recognition and power. The growths of the two parties traced similar curves and given the BJP’s national ambition, their paths eventually crossed.
The two right-wing parties, united by their hard-line hindutva ideology, forged a natural alliance in 1989, contesting elections together in the state of Maharashtra. Together, they have fought 8 Lok Sabha elections and 5 Maharashtra assembly elections, and ruled the state between 1995 and 1999. Since 1999, the two parties have stuck together in the opposition, weathering the decade-long Congress rule. But come 2009, things began to change.
Maharashtra being their traditional home-ground, the Shiv Sena was always the stronger party, bringing in more seats than the BJP. The BJP knew that it needed the Sena to keep itself afloat in the state. The greater ideal of power bound them with each other, like a pack of predators hunting together.
The 2009 assembly elections dealt a huge blow, with the Shiv Sena posting its lowest ever tally, landing on the fourth rung in the state, even below the BJP. Since then, their fortunes have only spiraled downward.
In 2014, a whirlwind turn-around saw the BJP, stamped with the Modi mast-head rising sensationally to the pinnacle of power. For the first time ever, a clear mandate and rising popularity gave the BJP the power to shake off the shackles of coalition and exist on its own, in both the state and national level. The Modi-Shah duo sensed the opportunity to re-invent their party, to recast it into a new, national mould that would let it transcend the Hindu nationalist image and acquire a truly Indian identity.
The October Maharashtra Assembly elections radically transformed the BJP’s influence in the state. They raced ahead of the usual favorites, capturing almost double the number of seats Shiv Sena could manage. The equations changed. The NCP, the Congress, the Sena and the BJP, all had to re-orient themselves. Priorities had to be weighed and laid out. For the first time, BJP was the dominant power and held all the cards. For the first time, the BJP did not need Shiv Sena to establish rule in the state. Cracks began to appear and deepen, and today, the split between the two became final.
The current state of affairs is poisonous to the Shiv Sena’s political ambitions. What happened in the last month has so tarnished its image that unless drastic action is taken, this might be the beginning of its decline. The Modi-Shah association has sent out the message loud and clear: The BJP will no more bow down to pressure. Uddhav Thackeray saw his frenetic damage-control actions go down the gutter as the BJP won the trust vote in the assembly today without the Shiv Sena’s assistance, marking a historic victory for them in the state, and a potential death knell for the Shiv Sena.
The Shiv Sena is in dangerous terrain, splits within the party slowly rising to the surface. The most painful blow was Modi’s decision to reward the erstwhile Shiv Sainik, Mr. Suresh Prabhu, the powerful position of Railway Minister after he ditched his former party for the BJP.
The Shiv Sena, forced to sit in the opposition, are stuck in an awkward position, wedged between power and pride. A not insignificant number of party members are disgruntled by the leadership’s handling of the situation, leading to them missing out on a chance to wield power in the state, while another faction is disgruntled with the leadership for not taking a harder stance with the BJP.
The BJP is riding high, with public support backing it, empowered by their newly gained political independence. They don’t need to answer for the Shiv Sena’s eccentricities anymore, and they are free to carry out their policies, without bending and warping them to an ally’s wishes. It is time for the BJP to once again adjust the Hindutva knob. Modi and Shah can run their show peacefully now, distancing themselves from their erstwhile Hindu nationalist faÃ§ade and painting a new, wider national image that will help them in the long run.
Politics is a game of highs and lows, and fluctuating fortunes. Today, the Shiv Sena is left grunting and groaning and dusting their coats. But if the BJP takes a fall from its high horse, will the Sena be there to lend them a hand?