Retaining allies crucial, but how far will the BJP go to accommodate them?

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New Delhi:

Heavy rains lashed Mumbai as pre-monsoon hit Maharashtra and affected normal life across the city, but the inclement weather did not dampen the spirits of many. In fact, for the Shiv Sena, it provided an opportunity to fire another salvo at the BJP under the veil of the inefficiency of the state government and the BMC.

Even before the dark skies opened its fury on Mumbai, the Shiv Sena had announced that it will go solo in all upcoming elections, a move which many have not predicted, particularly after the meeting of BJP president Amit Shah and Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray.

During the more than an hour-long meet with Amit Shah on Wednesday, Uddhav Thackeray was said to have raised concerns like neglect of allies in the NDA, state government issues but none seemed severe enough so as to prompt the Shiv Sena to announce a standalone path for future elections. The Shiv Sena was founded by political cartoonist Bal Thackeray in 1966. The party, in fact, carved its existence from a movement of demanding preference of “Marathi Maus” over non-Marathis. It started with propagating the Marathi ideology but as it expanded to other states, its thrust was more on Hindu nationalism because of wider acceptability of the theme.

After the demise of Bal Thackeray, the charge was taken up by Uddhav Thackeray though many believed that nephew Raj Thackeray was a better candidate for the post. Raj, being denied the Sena head position, floated his own party the “Maharashtra Navnirman Sena” based on the same philosophy of “Marathi Maus” but more fundamental in nature.

The Shiv Sena aligned itself with the BJP and became a part of the National Government during the Vajpayee era and there started the existential crisis for the Shiv Sena.

During all these times, the BJP was successfully making inroads into Sena’s strongholds piggybacking on it. In 2014, the state of Maharashtra was reeling under huge anti-incumbency factor against the Congress’s rule, both the BJP and the Sena sensed the opportunity and started a discussion on seat sharing for the Assembly Elections but could not arrive at a mutual consensus, therefore, they decided to contest elections separately. The BJP won 2014 state assembly elections with 122 seats while the Shiv Sena got only 63, buoyant with the win and Modi wave, the BJP slowly started to delve into the Shiv Sena. Uddhav Thackeray clearly understood that if the BJP was given a free hand, the Shiv Sena will eventually lose its relevance among its core vote bank. It was highly hopeful of the Palghar bi-elections win but it turned the other way round with the BJP winning the seat.

The Shiv Sena wanted to send across a message to the BJP and send it really fast. The memo came in the form of the announcement today morning. The Shiv Sena appears to have kept its options open to align with the NCP if required and at the same time apparently take up the role of the main opposition in the state as well. Shah’s walking into Uddhav Thackeray’s house in itself was a big signal that the BJP really wanted to resolve all issues with their friends, but the Shiv Sena turned the other way, perhaps hoping for a better bargain.

Uddhav Thackeray must remember if the Congress is successful in inking a deal with the NCP, then whatever influence it has by the virtue of being in power would be totally ruined as the Congress-NCP is likely to benefit the most from the BJP-Shiv Sena feud.

The BJP has already blown the poll bugle with Amit Shah embarking on a “Samapark for Samarthan” mission under which he intends to meet 50 prominent people across various sections of the society. Other BJP leaders and workers may soon follow in his footsteps. The entire exercise is being carried out to create mass awareness of the BJP’s achievement in last four years and generate a positive public perception among the core influencers of public sentiments.

BJP’s troubleshooter Amit Shah knows that 2019 Lok Sabha elections would not be a cakewalk, therefore retaining existing allies would be extremely crucial for the party.

However, politics is a game of limitless possibility, wherein even the impossible seems to be possible. Just before the Lok Sabha elections, all NDA allies have stepped up their ante against the BJP only to emphasise their relevancy no matter whether its Uddhav Thackeray or Nitish Kumar or Chandrababu Naidu who already quit the NDA. But the question is how far would the BJP go to accommodate its partners.

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