BJP president Amit Shah’s recent outreach to allied parties that are on the warpath shows the alarm that has set in within the party over Opposition unity moves. Had the BJP been more accommodative in recent months in relations with the allies, this eventuality would perhaps not have come.
But it is better late than never and there is merit in waking up to the need to start with winning back estranged existing allies before the party ventures into wooing parties that have never been under the BJP umbrella.
Shah has started his odyssey of reconciliation with a meeting with Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray close on the heels of the Palghar byelection in which the BJP pipped the Shiv Sena in a prestigious contest. The wounded tiger that Uddhav is, he had alleged when the result came that the BJP had unfairly manipulated the victory.
Uddhav has been insisting for quite a while that he will have no truck with the BJP in the Lok Sabha and Maharashtra assembly polls. He has gone so far as to say that his party is the BJP’s “biggest political enemy.” Time and again, he has fired salvoes at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.
Yet, when Amit Shah called at his residence with a bouquet and a broad smile, the two leaders held talks for an hour and after they were joined by aides for another hour-and-half. Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut was quick to rebut any talk of a rapprochement but speculation is rife that the Sena is duly mollified but will continue to play hard to get.
Any further appeasement after this meeting by the BJP would be construed by the people as a sign of BJP’s desperation and could well be counter-productive.
It is believed that Uddhav flagged many questions and complaints, including the absence of NDA coordination meetings that were a regular feature in the Atal Behari Vajpayee-era when the two parties first worked together at the Centre. He also brought up several complaints against the state leadership of the BJP, including how Shiv Sena ministers were not given importance and sometimes completely ignored.
While BJP sources said more meetings were being planned in the coming days to improve relations, the Shiv Sena version of the talks was that there had been no headway and no weakening of the Sena’s resolve to go it alone in future elections.
For all his bravado, however, Uddhav Thackeray is acutely aware that with the Congress and the NCP close to knitting an alliance, his party would face heavy weather if it does not tie up with the BJP. As Congress leader and former chief minister Ashok Chavan claims emphatically, this is all mere posturing and the Shiv Sena will finally come around. But it will do so only after extracting its pound of flesh from the BJP in the tussle for seat allocations.
This was the first meeting after Amit Shah's visit last year when he met with Uddhav to solicit his support for the presidential nominee, Ram Nath Kovind. The 90-minute meeting hadn't then stopped the Shiv Sena from taking jabs at the BJP but it did eventually, even if reluctantly, support the NDA's presidential nominee.
Editorials in the Shiv Sena mouthpiece ‘Saamna’ accurately reflect the party position right since the days of Bal Thackeray and the latest one took a dig at the BJP saying that, for it, relationships are business calculations.
The last word on the uneasy relationship has clearly not been said. The unsteady truce will continue amid posturing by the two parties, especially the Shiv Sena until closer to the Lok Sabha elections. There was a time when the BJP was wooing Sharad Pawar’s NCP on the sly, side by side, but that has ceased with that party expressing its preference for the Opposition based on expediency.
For the Shiv Sena, it is now a question of going it alone or forging an alliance with the BJP. An alliance with the NCP or the Congress seems too far-fetched considering that the main electoral plank of the two parties would be a fight against communalism.