Is BJP in a fix in Maharashtra after having given a very long rope to its oldest ally Shiv Sena? And moreover, what are the compulsions that is forcing the BJP bosses to continue with the alliance with Sena, whose 18 MPs abstained during debate and voting on the no-confidence motion in the Lok Sabha on Friday? Has the Sena finally crossed the Laxman Rekha by thumbing the nose at the BJP?
These are some of the key questions the BJP high command may not want to answer in the immediate future. But these are signs of festering relationship which has only gone downwards in the last four years of NDA rule at the Centre. Perhaps BJP has dealt with Sena with an assumption that the Maharashtra ally has no option but to fall in line ahead of 2019 polls.
But Sena stand of late alludes towards a political line that party can be revived to reclaim its role as the leader of the NDA in Maharashtra only if BJP is weakened both at the Centre and in the state. Sulking Sena is doing nothing secretly and every decision has the stamp of the party chief.
Till Friday morning, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar had been in the forefront of dismissing suggestions that the Shiv Sena would be toeing a different line, thereby indicating that hotline with ‘Matoshree’, the residence of Thackeray, is at work and has worked.
Sena’s remaining firm on its decision to abstain in the crucial motion meant that Amit Shah’s key mission to Matoshree some two months back has resulted in abject failure. This not only bodes ill for expansion of the saffron brotherhood in Maharashtra, but could also result in a situation for the Congress-NCP to make some inroads.
Sena’s abstention decision is not music to the ears of the Devendra Fadnavis government in Maharashtra which so far has managed the tightrope walk easily. One can expect more problems for the BJP-led government in Maharashtra in the days and months ahead if the Prime Minister failed to directly intervene to mollify the Sena supremo.
There is a method in the madness. Thackeray is going slowly but surely in a way distancing Sena from BJP, with which it had 30-year-old ties for furthering Hindutva cause in Maharashtra. Sometime back, he even made it plain by declaring that these were “wasted” years for the Sena.
First, it had declared to go solo in the next Lok Sabha and Maharashtra assembly elections. Then it had put up a candidate against the BJP in the Palghar Lok Sabha bypoll springing a surprise on the BJP. And now it has consciously taken the decision of abstention from the voting against the Narendra Modi government in the Lower Hose and carried it out faithfully.
Interestingly, Modi and Shah have thus far been patience personified.
The Prime Minister thus far has taken no action and Sena’s lone Minister Anant Geete continues to hold his office in the union cabinet. This gives rise to the obvious question whether Modi and Shah are willing for a rapprochement with the Shiv Sena, and what will the party offer to the sulking Tiger.
A section of the state BJP has been ruling out any climb down from their side but do not say it openly as the high command has put a gag order on the issue of Shiv Sena.
Nowadays, the Shiv Sena has adopted a new tactic. It is praising Rahul Gandhi more than his own Congress party and thereby provoking the BJP.
"Friend, you have won us over”, this was the headline in Samana, Sena mouthpiece, which describes itself as the “world’s highly discussed newspaper” hailing the Congress chief for his speech in the Lok Sabha.
A day after the no-confidence motion against the Modi government, the Shiv Sena gave unambiguous signal of what was seen as its disillusionment by publicly hailing the address and actions of Congress president Rahul Gandhi in the Lok Sabha.
Uddhav would be giving a lengthy interview to Samana this week which is expected to reveal the future strategy of the Sena to stir trouble for the BJP.
For Narendra Modi, tackling the erstwhile allies Telugu Desam Party, the PDP or the new ally the Janata Dal(U) is easier than the Shiv Sena, which is fighting the battle for its honour being the elder brother of BJP till May 2014.
The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.