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Monday, 9 May 2016

#PoliticsPost The Catch 22 of Uddhav Thackeray

At the outset let me point out that I have the utmost respect for Shri Balasaheb Thackery and the organization he founded. This article is only an arm’s length examination of the real politk that goes on around us, especially in the context of the phenomenon that is Narendra Damodardas Modi.

The 2014 Maharashtra polls have relegated the Shiv Sena to secondary status within the NDA alliance, that too in its flagship state. From being a junior partner of the alliance, BJP overtook the Sena in 2009 in number of seats won despite having contested on far fewer seats. In fact, the ‘hit rate’ for BJP has consistently been higher than that of the Sena in Maharashtra. In 2014, despite contesting against the Sena in most seats, BJP won nearly twice the number of seats won by its erstwhile ‘senior’ partner. The table below clearly explains the decline of the Sena:

As BJP increasingly drives the political agenda in the country, it is not impossible to believe that a regional satrap like the Sena fears its political relevance going forward. It is this worry that is driving the Sena’s inimical behavior with its alliance partner. 

Sena knows that the CM Devendra Fadnavis has strong support from the Prime Minister and has been doing good work. A good monsoon this year will cement the position of the BJP in the state and going to polls in 2019 against this background will be very difficult for the Sena.

One of Sena’s options is to pull out of the alliance, but this has practical difficulties. Sena has been given 10 ministerial portfolios in the state cabinet. After 15 long years of sitting in opposition, this opportunity has presented itself. It is unlikely that the ministers would quit this to go back and sit in opposition again. Sena might be facing a split if ministers are pulled out at this point, especially with them knowing that BJP is getting entrenched in the state. The drama in 2014 of recalling Anant Geete only to relent later is not forgotten by those following politics closely.

One reason why ministers will be willing to pull out is if there is a viable chance of Shiv Sena partnering with Congress and NCP to form its own government. With 146 MLAs between them, this alliance may just work. In fact SS will become the senior partner here, making it prima facie an attractive proposition for the Sena Chief. Congress, which is getting battered at both the state and central level, will more than welcome this move. Not only would it help them protect their Rajya Sabha strength but it would also be a great PR exercise to divert attention from the various scams it finds itself in. Not to mention getting control of a cash rich state and being able to hit back at the BJP.

So why are the Sena and Congress not pursuing this path? The Bookkeeper believes the answer lies in the enigma known as Sharad Pawar. Remember this is the same leader who had suo motu offered outside support to the BJP government after the Assembly results. Pawar is now 75 year old, and will be nearly 80 by the time the next elections roll around. It is likely that at his point he is more worried about safeguarding his legacy in the form of his daughter instead of entering into a new battle with Narendra Modi. The Bookkeeper will not be surprised if Pawar ‘engineers a split’ in his own party allowing a faction to support the BJP government in Maharashtra if the Sena pulls out (assuming he doesn’t order NCP to support the BJP en masse). The   Bookkeeper believes that ultimately Pawar would want his daughter to join the BJP and may even be willing to allow the government to proceed with corruption investigations against some other members of his party in return. Even if BJP does not accept his daughter within its fold, some form of compromise on her between Pawar and Modi cannot be ruled out. But that is a story for another day.

So coming back to the question at hand, continuing in this alliance would be the proverbial ‘death by a thousand cuts’ for the Sena. This cannot be the preferred option, certainly! So what is the alternative?!

A remote possibility is that BJP itself asks Sena to leave the alliance. In this case the Sena ministers will have no alternative but to resign from their posts and would not be able to hold Uddhav responsible for their situation, at least publicly. This seems to be one of the reason why the Sena sustains a campaign of opposing BJP on most issues, whether it is the Kasuri reception, or Kanhaiyas speeches. But this is a delicate game as they cannot take any action that would make a parting of the ways squarely the responsibility of the Sena.

The other option for the Sena is that it breaks the alliance but has something equally lucrative to offer to its ministers who are currently in the cabinet. The only thing that seems to fit the bill is the Mumbai civic polls slated for 2017. Mumbai municipality is a prestigious poll and with a budget of Rs30-35,000 crore Rupees is the size of a small state. Interestingly this is also the arena were Shiv Sena has the lead on BJP. In fact in the last polls held (2012), Shiv Sena won 75 seats versus the 31 of BJP in Mumbai.

The common thought of political watchers is that BJP should back out of the Mumbai polls allowing Shiv Sena to continue its strong position there. This will mollify the party and will lead to a smooth running of the alliance for the balance 2 odd years at the State level. The Bookkeeper does not share this view. As explained earlier, for the Sena this is a question of its relevance itself and it cannot afford to continue in this state alliance till 2019 when it will probably be offered even fewer seats than the 135 it was offered in 2014. However, SS will back out of the alliance only in a position of strength. If Shiv Sena were to extract another strong performance in the 2017 civic polls, then it may even be prepared to sit in the opposition in the state assembly. After all it can then serve as an effective toll booth for the BJP’s development plans for Mumbai and can also take the mantle of the main opposition party at the state-level.

So BJP faces some stark choices. Either let Shiv Sena have a walkover in the Civic poll; or, BJP contests on all seats in the municipal poll and pushes the Sena to the wall on this front as well. While either choice is not exactly palatable, it is the Bookkeeper’s view that in the first case the Sena ‘will’ definitely pull out of the alliance. While in the second case, the Sena ‘may’ pull out of the alliance. Simply put, it is easier to deal with a weaker opponent than a stronger one. This of course pre supposes that the BJP will do well in the Civic polls, enough to worry the Sena. Because if it does not, then the Sena will definitely quit the alliance. But then this outcome was anyway going to be the case, so the BJP doesn’t lose anything except maybe get a timely reminder to better prepare for the State polls in 2019.

BJP should recognize that Shiv Sena is facing a crisis of identity at this point. The ‘marathi manoos’ agenda has been dominated by Raj Thackeray, and it has not even worked for him. It is however possible for the Sena to revive this tactic closer to the time of the civic polls. While this will certainly alienate the north Indian voter living in Mumbai, the Sena does not lose much from this demographic. What can happen is that a north Indian who could have voted for the BJP may be encouraged to vote for someone else due to the belligerent behaviour of BJP's partner. Even the marathi votes to BJP may be split on this account as BJP is unlikely to toe this regional line. This in fact corroborates the need for BJP to fight the civic polls separately from the Sena. Assuming the Sena does pursue this path of regional identity politics, the Bookkeeper does not see it benefiting them much unless they bring the other stakeholder in such politics (Raj Thackeray) on board with them.

It is the Bookkeeper’s suspicion that Sena's tentative plan in the meanwhile is to go with a ‘youngistan’ image with Aditya Thackray as the icon. This can be gleaned from the fact that one of Aditya’s most known campaigns has been the extension of night life timings in Mumbai. This coming from the same party that opposed western culture! In reality, the only effective counter to BJP by the Sena would be to grasp the hardcore Hindutva issue and dare BJP to do the same, straining its core voter base. But like one suspects, the current mood of the Party seems to be establishing the young scion and thus is unlikely to do the counter-intuitive.

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