Shiv Sena – BJP Alliance in Final Stage Of Break Up
The Shiv Sena-BJP alliance seems to be in the final stages of a break-up. While the finality of divorce is still missing, a pre-mortem of a relationship gone awry is worth attempting even now.
The reality is even marriages made in heaven wash up at divorce courts for various reasons. Divorce happens when the partners have widely divergent views on what the other brings to the table or are unable to work out a sensible mechanism for give and take. Outsiders may wonder why two good people who seemed to have everything going for them are bent on throwing it all away, but even outsiders cannot see or feel what the partners themselves feel.
To understand the Sena-BJP divorce papers and the logic behind it, we need to first see what the partners themselves see as the problem, and why they are unable to see the other’s side of the argument. Some of these issues are not articulated even by the protagonists, for it would be seen as a sign of weakness.
Let’s start with Uddhav Thackeray’s side of the story. One the face of it, he cannot be in any doubt that the BJP has emerged stronger after the Lok Sabha polls. So the old 169-119 seat sharing formula for the Maharashtra assembly polls is illogical. Moreover, the Sena has never won in some 59 seats it contested in the last three elections. So giving some of even these seats away to the BJP should not cause its own seat share any real damage. Or so the BJP thinks.
But this logic does not work for Uddhav for several reasons.
First, Uddhav sees himself in a life-or-death struggle over Bal Thackeray’s legacy with Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). The fact that the BJP started flirting with Raj before the Lok Sabha elections cannot have reassured him about the Sena’s place in the sun. Giving the BJP more seats would thus be akin to giving the partner more leeway to make deals with other parties after the elections. This is one reason why Uddhav does not want to give the BJP more seats. A BJP with 90-100 seats after the elections would be flexing its muscles with the Sena and can also offer the prospect of power to other partners.
Second, in theory, sharing some of the seats it never won with the BJP should improve the alliance’ chances in the elections. But for Uddhav, denial of the 59 seats to the BJP is a form of insurance that the BJP won’t emerge as the bigger party after the elections. He would rather lose these 59 seats than allow the BJP to gain from it. This factor of denial has become important in the context of the BJP’s refusal to accept Uddhav as the alliance’s Chief Ministerial candidate.
Third, Uddhav knows that if, as a regional party, the Sena does not get more seats than the BJP (or at least close to what the BJP gets), it is only a matter of time before the BJP asserts itself as a senior partner in the alliance and walks away with the whole state. If the Sena is whittled down, the field will be clear for Raj to claim Bal Thackeray’s legacy as the sole defender of the Marathi manoos. Uddhav will this thus lose twice over – to the BJP and to the MNS.
This is clearly a do-or-die battle for Uddhav, and if the choice is between losing it all and playing second fiddle, he would rather lose it all. Playing second fiddle to the BJP means he will first lose Marathi mindshare to MNS, and then become irrelevant to the Marathi manoos politics.
The problem for the Sena is structural. When Bal Thackeray made the fateful decision in the mid-1980s to play two cards – the Marathi card and the Hindutva card – there was always a danger of falling between two stools. You may end up being neither. The Marathi card is now Raj Thackeray’s USP, and after Bal Thackeray’s death, the Hindutva card sits better with the BJP. Uddhav is in no-man’s land.
To sum up, while the BJP has electoral logic and national muscle on its side, for Uddhav the current election is an existential battle for survival. He cannot afford to give in to the BJP.
Two days ago, I had explained why the alliance should stay together since they will be giving up the bird in hand (an electoral win) for two in the bush. It now seems that the two partners see things from entirely different perspectives.
In the long term, one cannot see the alliance surviving, but the only way to preserve it for this election is the old give-and-take routine: offer Uddhav the Chief Ministership and get more seats. Even this may not swing it for the BJP as long as Uddhav is insecure about this future and MNS waits to feast on the remains.
But one can at least understand where Uddhav is coming from. Put another way, Uddhav cannot save the Sena-BJP alliance; only the BJP can.