November 23, 2014



Many expected that the drama that unfolded on the floor of the Maharashtra assembly couple of weeks ago as the BJP government won a controversial trust vote was the final nail in the coffin of the two and a half decade old alliance between the BJP and the Shiv Sena. However, reports in the media have indicated that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has decided to take matters in its own hands and play the peace maker between the former allies. Whether it was the pressure from the RSS or NCP chief Sharad Pawar's warning to his cadres to be ready for snap polls, Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis has made it clear that the doors are still open for the SS to be a part of his government. At the same time, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu who quit the regional outfit to join the BJP hours before the PM's cabinet expansion, has met Sena president Uddhav Thackeray to sort out differences. While it is too early to speculate, there seem to be renewed efforts on both sides to come to a conclusion regarding the sharing of ministerial berths in the cabinet. With the winter session of the state assembly to start on December 8, here is why the two estranged saffron allies should bury their hatchet and join hands.

(1) Stability: With the new regime 'winning' the trust motion on the basis of a controversial voice vote, it is not yet clear as to how many MLAs are supporting the Fadnavis government in the 288 member state assembly. The BJP which emerged as the single largest party finished with a tally of 122 seats, 23 short of the majority mark. Even if the party convinces smaller players like the Peasants And Workers Party of India (3), the Bahujan Vikas Aaghadi (3), the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (1), the Rashtriya Samaj Paksha (1), the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (1) and 7 independents to support it, their combined strength will be at 138. Whichever way you look at it, the bottom line is clear - BJP will need the outside support of the NCP to pass key legislations in the House. Taking support of a party that is headed by the Pawars and is infamous for rampant corruption scandals involving some of its senior most leaders is definitely not a good idea. Moreover with the former Union Agriculture Minister making it clear that he would not hesitate to withdraw support to the incumbent government in the future, many in the saffron camp will be feeling a bit jittery. Another option is to ask some Sena and Congress MLAs to resign and then contest on a BJP ticket. The saffronists have already mastered this in neighboring Karnataka in 2007. However, that too will draw a lot of criticism from opposition parties and the media. As such, if the Sena can join hands with the BJP, the government will have the backing of at least 185 MLAs in the house and will cruise through its five year term without any major glitch.

(2) Clipping Sharad Pawar's wings: The NCP supremo is a sly fox; in spite of the fact that his party was relegated to the fourth position in the recently concluded polls, he played his cards well. As it became clear that the BJP will fall short of a majority on its own, he offered unconditional outside support to the saffron party 'for the sake of providing a stable government to the people of Maharashtra'. That was a master stroke since it effectively reduced BJP's reliance on the Sena and was the primary reason as to why the two estranged allies could not come together. And a few weeks later came the disclaimer when the Maratha strongman asked his cadre to be ready for snap polls anytime indicating that his intentions in case things do not go his way. With the state regime being 'at the mercy' of Sharad Pawar, one can expect him to keep Devendra Fadnavis & Co. on the tenterhooks. After the drubbing that the regional outfit got in the Lok Sabha elections and the subsequent state polls, the BJP and the Sena have a golden opportunity to literally 'finish off' whatever is left of Sharad Pawar's political career. If they can sort their differences, they will make the NCP and most importantly, its chief irrelevant in the politics of Maharashtra for at least five more years.

(3) The BJP-NCP 'unholy' alliance: At a rally in Maharashtra during the state polls, the PM called the NCP as a 'Naturally Corrupt Party'. His analysis was spot-on; many top leaders of the NCP including its chief Sharad Pawar, his nephew and former Deputy CM Ajit and daughter Supriya Sule have a host of corruption cases pending against them. How will the BJP justify this move of accepting support (so what if it is outside) from the Pawars after it ran a high voltage campaign targeting the NCP? There are no permanent friends and enemies in politics. However, the BJP and the NCP coming together is very hard to digest. Now, I know many will say that the same applies to the BJP and the Sena. After all, the Sena chief Uddhav equated the BJP central leadership to Afzal Khan - the commander who was sent by Adil Shah to quell the revolt of Shivaji and a much hated figure in the western state. In spite of all these, one cannot deny that the two parties are ideological allies and have been together for 25 years before their bitter divorce a few months ago. Moreover, if the BJP regime goes ahead and launches a probe into alleged scams of former NCP ministers, there is no way that the Pawars will continue to support the Fadnavis regime. As such, it is but logical for the BJP to severe all ties with the NCP and renew their friendship with the Sena.

(4) The Sena needs the BJP...: Yes, you read it right! The Shiv Sena which has been out of power for 15 years in the state needs to be in the government desperately so that they do not slip into political oblivion. The death of charismatic leader and founder Bal Thakeray as well as the split in the ranks following the exit of Raj has led to a large section of traditional Sena workers to gravitate towards the BJP, especially after the elevation of Narendra Modi. Moreover in the last one year several party leaders, dissatisfied with the leadership style of Uddhav have switched sides. The Sainiks were confident that they would win more seats than their former ally in 2014; however, their dreams came crashing down as the BJP won twice as many as seats as the Sena. Lastly, the SS is in power in the Mumbai Municipality (the richest municipality in the country) with the support of the BJP. Although it did much better than the Congress and the NCP this year in the state polls, there is no doubt that the Sena is at its weakest in the last two decades. There is an urgent need for Uddhav to rebuild the party and take it beyond the Konkan and central Maharashtra. For this, it is but necessary for the Sena to be in power.

(5) ... and the BJP needs the Sena too: The Sena has 18 MPs in the Parliament and is one of the largest players in the NDA. Besides, the party has three seats in the Rajya Sabha too. While the saffron outfit has a clear cut majority in the Lower House, it lacks the numbers in the Upper House. As such, it needs allies, especially one like the Sena which has stuck with it even when the BJP was out of power for a decade. Also, a Sena as the primary opposition will be too difficult for the BJP to handle.