Maharashtra, Shiv Sena, Congress, NCP, Sharad Pawar, Rahul Gandhi, Uddhav Thackeray
Though there is still a year to go for the Lok Sabha elections, Shiv Sena (UBT) chief Uddhav Thackeray seems to be emerging as the face of the MVA in Maharashtra notwithstanding the split in his party. File photo

In Maharashtra, it is a tiger’s share of problems

  • Whatsapp
  • Telegram
  • Whatsapp
  • Telegram
  • Whatsapp
  • Telegram

It was a busy Monday morning for Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut, most of which was spent putting out fires—fuelled by speculation—in the media. At a press conference held on Monday morning, the ex-editor of Sena’s mouthpiece “Saamna” reiterated the loyalty that the Shiv Sena, INC, and NCP had towards each other in the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi coalition government, stating clearly and unambiguously for the record that “attempts to create a rift among the ruling allies will not work.”

Raut was referring to events that had transpired over the last few days—a by-product of which was heavy speculation that the Shiv Sena and its old ally-turned-foe BJP could be seen joining hands once again in Maharashtra’s political fray. Two events seem to have fuelled these assumptions that finally had to be silenced by Raut; the first was a letter written by Ovala-Majiwada legislator Pratap Sarnaik of the Shiv Sena, to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, claiming that the NCP and Congress were “weakening” the Sena. The second was the public snubbing of local Congress leaders by Thackeray himself.

Speaking at the Shiv Sena’s 55th foundation day on Saturday, Thackeray said that the public would “beat with footwear” those people who only spoke about contesting elections instead of offering a solution to the people’s problems. The Sena president was taking a veiled swipe at Mumbai Congress chief Bhai Jagtap, who had said a few days ago that the Congress was ready to contest the 2024 Lok Sabha and assembly election solo.

Speculation about the Sena-BJP joining hands once again in the near future makes sense to a passive onlooker. After all, both parties do have a similar (if not identical) vote bank and are credited with running a stable government in Maharashtra for decades, riding high on a growing Hindutva wave. Furthermore, Thackeray’s veiled jibes at the Congress came on the heels of a meeting held between him and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi almost two weeks ago, adding more fuel to the fire that something had gone down behind closed doors that had possibly changed the Sena’s stance towards its allies in the MVA.

Also read: Now, a Union minister says BJP-Sena govt could be formed in Maharashtra

However, sources within the Sena and the BJP claim that the chances of both parties getting back together is not only a long shot—but practically impossible—owing to the recent mudslinging and name-calling between the two, ever since the latter lost its power in the state after the 2019 election. The Sena itself faces a myriad of challenges, ranging from keeping its allies happy and seeing out the tenure of the MVA government, to handling discontent among its own ranks.

“There is nothing left to reconcile between the both of us,” said a Shiv Sena party member. “The Sena-BJP rift today has grown so much that no matter how much we try to sit at a table and come to an amicable decision, the outcome will never be feasible. Today, we have allied ourselves with an ancient political enemy in the state—the Congress—but if we join hands with the BJP once again, then that will only increase our party’s problems. The way in which the BJP has been attacking the Shiv Sena on all fronts, be it with false and baseless allegations in the Sushant Singh Rajput case, or smearing senior leaders like Anil Parab and Aaditya Thackeray… our relationship has come to an end. However, whatever decision will be taken regarding getting back, will be done so by senior leaders in the party. But for a kattar Shiv Sainik like me, the idea of joining hands with the BJP once again doesn’t even exist, let alone make sense.”

When asked about any infighting within the Sena, primarily keeping Sarnaik’s controversial letter in mind, a Shiv Sena leader said: “There is no infighting that exists. All the state committees will be finalized by next week. Everyone will be happy then. Someone writing a letter to express his personal stance doesn’t indicate discontent among our ranks. The letter itself spoke primarily about how we have handled the coronavirus situation…and it is not until you come to the end of the second page that he (Sarnaik) mentions this point about Congress and NCP ‘weakening’ the party and urges Uddhav ji to join hands with the BJP for the upcoming civic elections. These points are not the prominent features of the letter in any way.”

In his June 10 letter, Sarnaik had also said that he was facing pressure from the Enforcement Directorate for alleged money laundering, and urged Thackeray to join hands with PM Modi “before it’s too late” so that Sena leaders could be spared from similar harassment tactics by central investigating agencies. “It is better to join hands with Prime Minister Narendra Modi once again, as Shiv Sainiks feel that this will save Sena leaders like Anil Parab, Ravindra Waikar, and myself, from problems,” he said.

When asked about a possible alliance in the near future between the Shiv Sena and BJP once again, the Sena leader said: “I am telling you that it is 100% not possible. Why? Because it has become personal now. They (BJP) tried to tag Aaditya as pappu but failed in doing so because his fieldwork speaks for itself. The tactics employed by the BJP, especially in the SSR case…no one is going to simply forget all of that and wipe the slate clean. Even if the Sena does end up joining hands with the BJP—the cadre will not like it. Whatever position leaders might be having within the party, when it comes to the Thackeray family, it is an emotional bond between them, the party leaders, and the cadre. I don’t think it will be easy if ever, to reconcile.”

The party worker also said that the Congress’s intent to contest the 2024 election solo in the 2024 Lok Sabha and assembly election could be nothing more than a tactic to simply gain more number of seats.“If they want to grow as a party and expand, then that is their call. But I feel that they are doing this just to get more seats, or to gun for a seat-sharing of the Chief Minister’s chair. After all, the Congress has always been a national party, which is why they don’t like coming second-best to a state party like the Shiv Sena or NCP.”

Lastly, it must not be forgotten that by forming an alliance with the Congress, the Sena has, by default, lost some of its Hindutva base. Furthermore, even though the tigers seem to have both hands firmly placed on the steering wheel, one could make the argument that its allies in the MVA have been benefitting more than them from their recently-formed alliance.

The Congress had been reduced to ashes in the state before the formation of the MVA, and the NCP, which used to be just a rural stronghold party, has shown no signs of going out of the limelight ever since its leader and Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar delivered a fiery speech at Satara amid heavy rainfall, in a bid to woo voters for the upcoming civic elections.

Describing the current sentiment in the Congress camp, a disgruntled former Congress MP  said: “These talks of contesting 2024 solo…yeh sab sirf bolne ki baatein hai (these are just talks). It is simply a part of the politics to get more seats in the assembly. Congress leaders are weak in the state;  all are small compared to the likes of Sharad Pawar. We don’t have that much personality.”

The leader also ruled out the possibility of the Sena and BJP joining hands in the near future. “They both have the same vote bank, therefore it is inevitable that someday in the distant future they might get back together. But if that ever happens, Congress will not be a part of that coalition. We can compromise with political parties that are at a state level—but not with parties that are at a national level. Our (Congress and BJP) ideologies are very different.”

Also read: ‘Hounded’ by Centre, Sena MLA urges Uddhav to patch up with BJP

“If the Sena takes a decision of reconciling with the BJP, then of course things will change,” said an NCP official. “But why would Sena go back to the BJP when it is firmly sitting at the steering wheel? In their (Sena’s) experience, the years between 2014 and 2019 have not been pleasant in their dealings with the BJP. That is why the NCP and Congress have both chosen to go with them (Sena), even though ideologically at that time everyone thought it was impossible. The MVA government will most definitely see out its five-year tenure.”

The official also added that Pratap Sarnaik was a “small fry” and that his letter was not indicative of any breakaway faction being formed within the Shiv Sena. “The Shiv Sena doesn’t have a history of people leaving its party, barring the likes of Chhagan Bhujbal, Narayan Rane, and Raj Thackeray. The best performance of breaking away was by Bhujbal, with 20 MLAs by his side, followed by Rane with 8, and Raj Thackeray had one sitting MLA by his side. So you see, the graph has only been coming down ever since ’91. Even if he (Sarnaik) tries his best…how many people will even follow him? I don’t think he can manage any MLAs, therefore the question of keeping the Shiv Sena ‘together’ doesn’t really are in the first place.”

A state BJP leader said: “The Congress with just 40 seats is making the Shiv Sena dance at their fingertips. In this equation, the biggest loser is the Sena as they have lost their Hindutva ideology and identity. Traditional Shiv Sena voters are losing faith in the party due to this change in core ideology.”

He added: “The BJP will contest alone and will get a clear majority in the BMC election in 2022.” When asked if he saw the two age-old allies reconciling their difference and joining hands in the near future, he said: “After seeing their recent change of ideology…I don’t think so. Unfortunately, it is no more the Hindu Hirday Samrat Bala Saheb’s Shiv Sena—but the sequel of Shiv Sena called ‘Soniya Sena.’

Read More
Next Story