Political pundits explain the current exchange of pejoratives between the Shiv Sena and the BJP in Maharashtra as mere “posturing” before the municipal polls in the state. The pundits say the Sena has a big stake in the civic bodies as they give the party both local leaders and works and enough resources to cater to the electoral constituencies. There seems to be some plausibility in this view as the Sena has been an urban-centric party, beginning with its strong base in Mumbai, where it built its support among the local Maharashtrian migrants by exploiting their sentiments that it is the migrants from other states that had claimed the largest share of the Mumbai pie. After all, say the pundits, the Sena and BJP fought the elections together and are in the government both at the Centre and in the state. If there were any real issues between the two parties, an alliance and sharing of power would not have happened.
However, the sharpness and meanness of the current acrimony between the two parties are pointing to a deeper fissure. It is not just posturing. Every few days, the Sena has been saying things or doing things that are intended to embarrass the BJP. The Sena has defied the Fadnavis government openly. Whereas the government assures protection to everyone, including Pakistani singers or writers or politicians, and to all their hosts, the Sena makes it a point to oppose, attack and try to disrupt the functions. As a matter of fact, when the BJP criticised the ink attack on former L K Advani aide Sudheendra Kulkarni for hosting the release of former Pakistan external affairs minister Kasuri’s book, the Sena taunted that ink attacks were nothing compared to the lynching incidents such as that happened at Dadri.
Senapramukh Uddhav Thackeray has now threatened to pull his party out of the ruling alliance in Maharashtra. He said he would not mind bring the government “on the street” – which is his way of saying that the Sena’s withdrawal will push the BJP out of power. Uddav’s threat has come in view of complaints from the members of the Shiv Sena in the Fadnavis cabinet that their decisions and viewpoints are being overruled in the alliance government. One Sena minister went to the extent of saying that this government was working against the interests of the Sena. He even submitted his resignation to Uddhav Thackeray. Uddav did not accept his resignation but issued a threat to Fadnavis that his party would pull out of the government.
The situation for the alliance government is not looking well. Because the BJP is not taking the Sena attack lying down. This is quite natural because the BJP had won the parliamentary elections in 2014 on its own and is the larger partner in the state alliance. When the Sena succeeded in getting Ghulam Ali’s concert in Mumbai cancelled, the BJP attacked the Sena by saying that Uddav Thackeray’s son and Sena youth leader Aaditya Thackeray had attended a concert of Fateh Ali Khan in Mumbai. Also, a prominent Sena leader had visited Pakistan. When the Sena carried out the ink attack on Kulkarni, the BJP said it was not civilised manner of protest which is what is permitted in democratic politics. The Sena responded to the taunts with posters showing Prime Minister Narendra Modi bowing down to the late Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray. The BJP threatened to put out posters of Aaditya Thackeray bowing to Narendra Modi. When Uddhav threatened to pull the Sena out of the government, Fadnavis dismissed it as ‘nautanki’.
Now, the threat to pull out of the government has come from Uddhav Thackeray only a few days after he made a statement that the Sena had no plans to quit the government. So, what has gone wrong within the last few days? Definitely the conflict between ministers of the Sena and BJP has sharpened. It is a well-known fact that the BJP has already started weighing options of how to manage a majority in the Assembly if the Sena withdraws itself from the government and the alliance. Of course, before the break comes, there would be efforts on both sides to reach a compromise. For the time being, it looks like the Sena leaders are intending to push the BJP and Chief Minister Fadnavis to a point where they have to give more space and liberty to the Sena ministers in the cabinet. The media has still not got any clue to what has caused disappointment and alienation among the Sena ministers in the Fadnavis cabinet. It is presumed that the Sena ministers wanted to take decisions in favour of some parties which were close to the Sena which Fadnavis and BJP ministers did not allow. The BJP is left with the choice of either giving in to the Sena pressure or to call their bluff.