The Saffron showdown – BJP VS Shiv Sena

From hosannas to Rahul Gandhi claiming he is good enough to lead the country, a meeting with BJP bete noire in Bengal, Mamata Banerjee and a booklet bashing BJP leaders under the tile ‘BJP crook’ – all this within a week or so – the Shiv Sena has done enough and more to provoke its saffron ally, the BJP.

That the BJP’s partner in the Maharashtra government, the Shiv Sena is testing its electoral waters and also the patience of the BJP leadership, are way too obvious. Signs are that the quarter century old alliance by the two Hindutva parties is on the brink of a collapse. The rupture in relations is largely attributed to the promiscuity of Shiv Sena.

It was common knowledge that regional power Shiv Sena was feeling increasingly insecure ever since the BJP’s stunning victory in Maharashtra in 2014. While the Shiv Sena continued to hold on to an obsolete ideology of Marathi nationalism the BJP wooed the middle class and the business community with its more practical, progressive promises during the last Maharashtra election campaign. The result, BJP clinching 122 seats while Shiv Sena securing only 63 slots.

Given the fact that the BJP could only muster 46 seats, just one seat ahead of the Shiv Sena at the 2009 election which was dominated by the Congress, Shiv Sena no doubt was stunned by the way BJP surge in the state. Making matters worse the BJP had bagged several urban and suburban areas which had earlier been Shiv Sena strongholds. Ever since this splendid performance in Maharashtra by its traditional ally BJP which was largely fishing in the same Hindutva waters, the Shiv Sena started suffering from an inferiority complex. It was after several deliberations that the BJP finally managed to rope the Marathi nationalist ally to the Maharashtra government.

Though it finally agreed to be part of the government, the fact that Shiv Sena was reluctant of giving the BJP any more chances to expand its support base had been obvious from the inception. The BJP has been complaining that the Shiv Sena was behaving more like an opposition party than a ruling ally by opposing almost all its major development proposals. Shiv Sena on the other hand contends that their proposals were not in the best interest of the state.

While the BJP’s agenda goes way beyond parochial regional interests being the country’s ruling party, Shiv Sena seems to be only interested in protecting its vote base in the state. This, it has been forced to do, as all its efforts to promote itself as a pan India party has failed so far. In the current 545 seater parliament (Lok Sabha) where BJP enjoys 275 seats, Shiv Sena has only 18 MPs, all representing the state of Maharashtra.

It is against this back drop and reports of a surge in the Congress vote base that Shiv Sena started pandering to BJP enemies.

Following Shiv Sena leader Uday Thackeray’s last week meeting with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee an editorial of the party’s official newspaper called her a tigress who brought down the 25 year long communist regime in state, something that neither Congress or the BJP could do.

More or less around the same time the a senior party member released a 56-page booklet detailing what he called twenty “national scams” of the “transparent BJP”.

If this was not enough party spokesman, Sanjay Raut recently declared that the Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has improved his “body language” and he believed that now with the PM Modi’s popularity too on the wane young Gandhi is qualified to lead the country.

It has given the BJP all the reasons to get incensed. After all in the eyes of the Prime Minister’s party, this is nothing but promiscuity by Shiv Sena which maintained a greater sense of integrity during the days of its founder Bal (Bahasaheb) Thackeray, the father of the present leader.

“Shiv Sena is a part of Maharashtra Government, but their leaders are behaving like opposition parties. They are criticizing the government while enjoying all the benefits of being in power. Late Balasaheb Thackeray never played this type of dirty politics with BJP,” BJP spokesman Madhu Chavan had retorted.

However for a party that is fighting a bitter battle for survival, it appears that Shiv Sena has very little choice in the matter.