As the curtain falls on the decades-long-BJP-Shiv Sena relationship and the Sena gets into overdrive to form the government in Maharashtra, it’s time to look at what it means for each of key stakeholders: BJP, Shiv Sena, NCP-Congress, the state of Maharashtra and national polity.
While BJP has gained an upper hand in terms of public sympathy by deciding not to stake claim for government formation and accusing its oldest natural ally of 'betrayal', the fact remains that it has lost the second largest state in the country. This is certainly bound to dent its image of invincibility and the image of its leadership's ability to turn the tide, particularly in the backdrop of the Haryana poll verdict where it barely scraped through.
The move will also embolden allies in other states to up their ante, particularly the likes of Janata Dal (United) and LJP in Bihar, who have played truant in the past too. Already LJP has indicated it would go alone in Jharkhand if its demand for seat allocation were not adequately met.
Call it betrayal or blackmail, critics would highlight the Maharashtra developments as yet another instance of the saffron party's inability to take its allies along and share power with them. Already comparisons are being drawn with how the Vajpayee-Advani duo were able to salvage the relationship on many an occasion when they went out of their way to accommodate Bal Thackeray as against what is being projected by the Sena as the “egoistic” attitude of the current leadership.
With elections to key states in the coming year, this does not augur well for the party.
However, BJP has mastered the art of opposition politics over the years. The havoc that it would wreak on the opportunistic coalition both within and outside the Assembly cannot even be imagined. And yes, after a long time, the hardcore supporters are hailing the party for taking a principled stand.
The tiger will taste blood finally with a Thaeckeray most likely to occupy the hot seat, the first in the history. In the past, the Sena's first family was known to exercise power without accountability or responsibility and remote control the powers that be. With power, the Thackerays will lose their halo of service and thereby come under a vigorous public scrutiny.
While the party is certain to come with many sops for its core constituency, the public perception of being opportutnistic and dumping a long time ideological fellow traveller for the sake of power and power alone will have its impact in future electoral battles.
It’s not the first time that opposing ideologies have come together for the sake of power. In Jammu and Kashmir, BJP had allied with PDP but will ther tiger lose its fangs and succumb to the pressure of the NCP-Congress alliance? Will it abandon its core Hindutva ideology? Will it shed its nationalist stand vis a vis Pakistan, Bangladeshi immigrants, NRC, Uniform Civil Code, Population control, cow protection etc. It would also find it difficult to justify any dilution of corruption cases against the previous NCP-Congress regime.
On the other hand, being at the helm of affairs, the Sena would be able to extend its reach beyond the traditional territories both within and outside the state. In the long term, as part of the opposition, it can also expect to emerge as an alternative Hindutva voice in the national scenario.
It’s payback time for both the parties who have been at the receiving end of the BJP. The breakup of the Mahayuti has come as oxygen for the alliance who were looking at a bleak future ahead with many of its leaders deserting the parties for greener pastures. For NCP, beseiged by graft charges and a tottering leadership, their present opportunity has come as a lifeline and for the headless and sinking Congress, it has come as the proverbial last straw. They hope for not only relief from a slew of corruption charges but also some resource mobilisation in the cash rich state for their future political battles.
They are also expected to use the situation to the hilt to attack the BJP.
Of course, many in the secular fraternity would be shell-shocked but they would seek to justify the opportunistic tie up with the Sena as “anything to stop the BJP juggernaut', which would find many buyers in their constituency.
Even if some of the leaders in these parties may not be in favour of such a relationship, the leadership also knows how difficult it is to hold on to the legislators, who are not certainly in favour of another election, which will happen sooner or later.
The state of Maharashtra
Yes, the state will get a new government and some of the pressing problems such as PMC, farmer suicides and water scarcity may get attention but in the long run, the state is in for instability.
It’s a betrayal of the mandate which wanted BJP-Sena in office and NCP-Congress in the opposition.
The minimum common programme to be arrived at among the new partners may balance out some of the decisions of the previous governments.
Questions also remain on the nature of relationship the new state government would have with the Centre and how it would impact the people at large.
The NDA will lose the support of Sena in Parliament and it would find reflection in both Houses where key legislations on critical issues and major debates are expected in the upcomning winter session itself.
The developments in Maharashtra would also redefine the BJP's relations with its other allies and vice versa. Party leaders in Bihar can also contemplate a Sena-like operation against Nitish Kumar. The opposition parties too would have to reinterpret their secular ideology lest their supporters get disillusioned.
All in all, the developments in Maharashtra politics are certain to lead to political instability in one of India's developed yet backward states, a realignment of forces at the national level and bring about perceptible changes.
KG Suresh is a senior journalist and former Director General of Indian Institute of Mass Communication.