« Back to articlePrint this article

'BJP needs us more than Shiv Sena needs them'

June 19, 2023 08:33 IST

'They (the BJP) should not forget that had we decided not to rebel, they would still be chanting slogans from the footsteps of the Vidhan Sabha.'

One year after Eknath Shinde broke away from the Shiv Sena and aligned with the BJP to form a government, Prasanna D Zore/ discovers there is anger and resentment in the air.

IMAGE: Eknath Shinde, right, and Devendra Fadnavis, left, greet supporters after they were sworn in as Maharashtra's chief minister and deputy chief minister respectively, June 30, 2022. Photograph: Shashank Parade/PTI Photo

Even as Eknath Shinde's Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party tread cautiously into the first year of their political honeymoon, sparks had begun flying between the two partners over cabinet expansion, seat sharing for the assembly and Lok Sabha elections tentatively slated for next year in April-May and October-November respectively.

Matters came to a direct confrontation between the two leaders on June 13 when 'some well-wishers' of Chief Minister Shinde issued front page newspaper ads highlighting the results of a survey that showed Maharashtra preferred Shinde as chief minister over the BJP's Devendra Fadnavis, currently the state's deputy chief minister; he was chief minister between 2014 and 2019.

Soon after the cabinet meeting the next day, a visibly upset Fadnavis held a 'short' closed-door meeting with Shinde, a reliable source from the Shinde camp tells

While nobody knows much about what transpired between the two during that 'short' meeting, the two leaders and their senior party members went on a damage control spree.

Shinde soon vowed that he rebelled against Uddhav Thackeray for the sake of Hindutva and that the two saffron parties have bonded like 'fevicol ka jod' for 25 years.

While Fadnavis too went about cooling tempers lit by the 'ad war', BJP Rajya Sabha MP Anil Bonde and the Shiv Sena's Buldhana MLA Sanjay Rambhau Gaikwad sparred with each other a couple of days later.

Bonde called Chief Minister Shinde a frog whose popularity remained limited to his home district Thane, just like Uddhav Thackeray's remained Mumbai-centric. Gaikwad, in turn, reminded the BJP that they would have been nobody in the state had Bal Thackeray had not formed an electoral alliance with the party since 1985.

IMAGE: Shiv Sena MLA Eknath Shinde flashes the victory sign after being elected as the party's legislative leader, October 31, 2019, soon after assembly elections in Maharashtra. Photograph: ANI Photo

"There are people who think too much of themselves and talk nonsense about Shinde saheb. But such comments (that Shinde is a frog and he remains popular only in Thane district) will have no impact on the SS-BJP alliance," Gaikwad tells over the phone even after the two parties had already called for a truce.

"It is a fact that the BJP rode piggyback on Hinduhridaysamrat Balasaheb Thackeray's popularity in Maharashtra. They should not forget it. If our chief minister is getting so popular in Maharashtra, then others should not be jealous about it," Gaikwad added.

Bonde was on the backfoot and state BJP Vice President Madhav Bhandari and party MLA Atul Bhatkhalkar were guarded in their responses to the Shindes ads.

Bonde, who had derided Shinde by calling him a frog, refused to comment on his diatribe against the chief minister. "That chapter is closed for me. That chapter is closed for the BJP," he says.

"Didn't the chief minister and deputy chief minister say that our alliance is like 'Fevicol cha jod'?" Bonde asks, trying to extinguish the controversy he had started.

Bonde refuses to comment on what Shiv Sena MLA Sanjay Gaikwad said about the BJP being an opportunistic party which rode piggyback and won electoral fortunes on Bal Thackeray's popularity and mass appeal.

"That is a closed chapter now. There is nothing to talk about it now," he says.

"They gave the ads to promote their party. So, that is up to them how they want to print such ads. Shinde saheb is the head of Shiv Sena and the chief minister of the Sena-BJP government in the state. But the BJP has time and again reiterated that Devendraji is our leader in Maharashtra," says state BJP vice-president Bhandari.

"We fought the election under Devendraji's leadership in 2015 and 2019, which we won handsomely. Uddhav Thackeray betrayed the trust of Maharashtra's voters and so we couldn't form the government in 2019. For us Devendraji is our leader," Bhandari asserts.

Bhatkhalkar, who is trying to establish himself as yet another firebrand leader in the BJP, too is in quiet mode when asked to comment about Shinde and the Shiv Sena sidelining Fadnavis in the front page newspaper ads published on June 13, 2023.

Blaming "one of the Shiv Sena's well-wishers" for publishing the ad, Bhatkhalkar says, "the Shiv Sena soon published a new ad featuring all the tall leaders from the Shiv Sena and BJP, which proves that there is no disagreement between the two parties. The important point is Maharashtra has given the alliance more than 50 per cent vote (as per the Zee-Matrize survey). That is the real news and it clearly proves that we will again form the government in 2024 based on the performance of our alliance."

Asked about Dr Shrikant Eknath Shinde's offer to resign from the Kalyan Lok Sabha seat and offer it to the BJP, and the fact that Eknath Shinde's son made no effort to hide his displeasure over local BJP leaders' plan to usurp his seat -- and which is also a bone of contention and reason for friction between the Sena-BJP -- Bhatkhalkar says, "He never said that the BJP is trying to usurp his seat. What he said is he was willing to even forego his seat for the sake of Narendra Modi becoming prime minister again. We are all working to make him India's prime minister for the third time and a BJP-Sena alliance in the state."

IMAGE: Eknath Shinde with rebel Sena MLAs at the Radisson Blu hotel in Guwahati in June 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

Dr Shrikant Shinde was elected in 2014 and 2019 from the Kalyan Lok Sabha constituency, but this time the BJP is claiming this seat; following a public spat between Dr Shinde and some senior BJP leaders he had offered to resign for the sake of the alliance's unity; though the two parties have apparently made up with each other the public spat has left leaders in the two parties bitter.

The Sena's Gaikwad adds his own twist to the tale. "Some BJP leaders are acting as if they don't want this alliance to continue and hence they are conspiring to grab Dr Shrikant Shinde's Lok Sabha seat," Gaikwad says.

"Many of us have started feeling that the BJP is trying to take us for granted or arm-twisting us to kow-tow to their demands. While Uddhav Thackeray faced a rebellion (from us) because he joined hands with the NCP and Congress, who are our ideological opponents, what is happening right now (the BJP trying to arm-twist the Shinde Shiv Sena) is akin to the same steps they once took (what they did to Uddhav Thackeray's Shiv Sena)," says Gaikwad.

"They (the BJP) should not forget that had we decided not to rebel (against Uddhav Thackeray and split the Shiv Sena) to protect Balasaheb's ideology of Hindutva, they would still be chanting slogans from the footsteps of the Vidhan Sabha (the BJP would still be in the Opposition)," says Gaikwad.

"If they continue to act like this, then each and every Shiv Sena MLA will face questions in our constituency about the BJP's intentions. They (voters from our constituency) will rebuke us for helping the BJP for the sake of Hindutva."

Gaikwad, however, is not all fire and brimstone. He too understands that tempers need to be sober if the two parties have to continue in alliance and go to the people together for the forthcoming assembly and Lok Sabha elections.

"I am not blaming the entire BJP, but there are certain motor-mouths in the party who are spoiling the alliance's image before the people of the state," Gaikwad says.

"What can Shinde saheb do if some of his well-wishers published such ads in the newspapers? Should he be blamed for something that he did not know much about? Well-wishers do what they want for their leaders and they did it," claims Gaikwad.

IMAGE: Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, centre, with Union Home Minister Amit A Shah, left, and Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, right, at Varsha, the CM's official residence in Mumbai, September 5, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

Gaikwad is not the only one angry at the way the BJP has been treating the Shinde Sena since last year. A sitting minister and an aspirant for minstership are upset too over the way the alliance has been tying itself in saffron knots since last month.

It all began when the BJP asked for the resignations of four ministers belonging to the Shiv Sena as soon as talks of cabinet expansion began doing the rounds of Maharashtra's power corridor, the Mantralaya.

"There are some media outlets doing paid news by publishing unsubstantiated charges and sullying images of some of our ministers at the BJP's behest; they (the BJP) are powerful and have huge pockets so they can splurge on such paid news. But the media should also show some ethics by asking us for our side of the story," says an angry Shiv Sena minister.

"You cannot publish and say that we are inactive in our constituencies or not doing any development work without asking us for our side of the story," he adds.

"If any of our ministers are taken to the cleaners we will not take it lying down," says he indicating that, if push comes to shove, the Shiv Sena too will pick skeletons from the cupboards of BJP ministers.

"Should we also start sullying images of their ministers and destroying their careers? We can also destroy your careers; we are keeping quiet for the sake of this government and Modiji and Amit Shahji," adds another Shiv Sena leader, who is hopeful of a berth in the Shinde-Fadnavis ministry if and when a ministerial expansion takes place.

"Such events do raise questions about the durability of our alliance. We (Shiv Sena MLAs who rebelled against Uddhav Thackeray and joined hands with the BJP to form the government by toppling the Thackeray Sarkar) are only 50 (in number) and we will walk out (of the alliance)," warns the minister.

"But they are 105 (the BJP MLAs) and need us more than we need them to let this government last till 2024," the minister points out.

"But today. the minister hastens to add, (despite the bad blood between the Shiv Sena and BJP over seat sharing, cabinet expansion and newspaper ads promoting Eknath Shinde as Maharashtra's chief minister after the 2024 assembly election) there is no such danger to our government or its stability."