It is some consolation that the BJP top brass which had kept the Sena on the ice has now said that it would be happy to have the former partner in the government. What it did not say openly is that it would be on the BJP’s terms, says Mahesh Vijapurkar.
If only Uddhav Thackeray and his party mouth piece Saamna had minded their words, avoided such metaphors as aulads of Afzal Khan, Dilli ki billi, and a reference to Narendra Modi’s baap, the Shiv Sena, despite being a rival in the elections after the pre-poll split with the Bharatiya Janata Party, would have been honourably accommodated in the Devendra Fadnavis cabinet. Perhaps, he would have had his nominee as deputy chief minister.
But with his bravado and sharp tongue, very much a manifestation of what he calls ‘our way’ or the ‘Sena’s way’, overstepped the line that Modi drew, ‘out of respect for the late Bal Thackeray’.
Despite that, Uddhav Thackeray fired a barrage of insults, as distinct from criticism, at the BJP which now has Modi as its larger-than-party icon, like the Dalits have their B R Ambedkar.
The very fact of not wanting to hit and wound the Sena was a calculated BJP move and visible to all. The intent was to buy insurance against a possible hung assembly where the two former parties may have to do business again. But that signal was ignored. For that the Shiv Sena is paying a price. And it is denied the prize of an honourable rapprochement except on the BJP’s terms.
As a consequence, the Sena has been scurrying to get the attention of the former partner with a hat in hand. The BJP, despite its own inadequate numbers, ignored it, and in all likelihood, be assured of only some crumbs. As of now, the BJP seems to want to see the Sena crawl for it, making it clear that henceforth they would be unequal partners, post-poll, the balance tilting in the BJP’s favour. The Sena is now pleading that their ministers, if any, be sworn in with the BJP’s.
Brinkmanship often has its rich rewards, and sometimes, a nasty boomerang. The Shiv Sena has been walloped hard, first by being relegated to a second place, though its wins are not anything to mock at. In a first ever contest against the BJP, it did well, but fell short of its own calculations. The calculation was that it would be where BJP is now. Unfortunately it turned out the other way around.
It is some consolation that the BJP top brass which had kept the Sena on the ice has now said that it would be happy to have the former partner in the government. What it did not say openly is that it would be on the BJP’s terms. The Sena cannot demand and hope to be served up the deputy chief minister’s post on a platter. Nor will the 1995 formula for power sharing to be implemented, not when Sena refused to see the changed circumstances post the Lok Sabha poll.
However, the BJP is doing no favours to the Sena. It needs the numbers which would make the five-year term which is ahead risk proof. The expedient of the outside support offered by the Nationalist Congress Party is attractive, and has been a weapon with which the Sena’s swagger has been tamed. But it cannot be a dependable way though Sharad Pawar says his plan is motivated by a need to usher in a stable government No one, much less, Pawar, ever offers free lunches.
At any point in time the NCP can waver and make the BJP sweat. Regardless of its seemingly good intentions, there is a compelling reason why the NCP would want to see the Sena diminished. Much as BJP has used the offer as a leverage in bringing the former ally to a stage of having to decide between sitting in the opposition or being happy with some minor crumbs.
In its short-sightedness of seeing it as an opportunity to take over the opposition space which otherwise would be occupied by the Congress and the NCP, the Sena had not sensed that by outside support, the NCP becomes a bigger player than the Sena can be. The Ajit Pawars and the Prithviraj Chavans would be playing second fiddle in the opposition. The abject status of the NCP and the Congress as an opportunity for long-term politics has been missed entirely.
Having said that, the BJP is going to have to keep the independents in good humour, more than it would possibly have to please the Sena. Independents are notoriously fickle, and make demands on a whim. The Sena-BJP government too had to keep them on their side during their 1995-1999 spell in office at some cost. They are the daily x-factor and susceptible to lures from the other side.
It so happens, that Maharashtra is nowhere near ending the coalition era it got into in 1995.