BJP needs Shiv Sena more than it admits

BJP needs Shiv Sena more than it admits

Now the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena are back on talking terms. But what they talk about, the former’s offer of share in power, and more specifically the extent of the share, will govern the direction of the discussions.

Uddhav ThackerayNow the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena are back on talking terms. But what they talk about, the former’s offer of share in power, and more specifically the extent of the share, will govern the direction of the discussions.

However, the bargain is going to be hard driven, for the Sena is back to asking for the deputy chief minister’s post while the BJP is said to only be willing to dish out the bare minimum – a few ministerships.

More important is the sudden overture from the BJP. The way three calls were made to Uddhav Thackeray, one by BJP chief Amit Shah, another by Defence and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, and also by chief minister-designate Devendra Fadnavis.

The sudden burst of activity to have the Sena chief witness the swearing-in ceremony went beyond mere courtesies.

Canvassing Uddhav Thackeray’s presence in Wankhede Stadium is significant though the BJP would never officially state it. If he had stayed away, then it could have marked the end of any scope for any realignment, or the demands would only increase.

Uddhav with PM Modi and BJP president Amit Shah at the swearing-in ceremony: The Sena could have announced the decision to sit in the Opposition and things could have got trickier.

If the old partner chose to sit across as Opposition, the dependence on the NCP increases. Even if the NCP abstained on any and all situations where a vote is called for in the Assembly, the minority government would only squeeze through. This is too precarious a situation.

The numbers speak – legislative politics is all about numbers – well: If the Sena, with 63 moved to the Opposition, the dependence on NCP becomes quite acute. Instead of abstaining, the latter may have to vote in favour of the BJP. this is something that the NCP, an advocate of stability in government, even if it is the BJP’s, would be averse to.

In their anxiety to rub the Sena's nose into the ground, the BJP may have overdone it. Or that is why they may have seen fit to suddenly extend the olive branch. Even in politics, there is something akin to the last straw. It seemed, however, to have ignored Uddhav Thackeray’s dilemma.

The Sena chief is wrestling with a Hamletian dilemma and is under extreme pressure from two different sections within the party.

One wants to be back in power, and this is a small but influential segment. The other is the larger section which finds that getting back into a relationship with BJP would blunt the edge they gained in the elections. The party should aim to build upwards from its 63 MLAs.

These seats were won in contests against the BJP. It showed up that Uddhav Thackeray had taken a risk and delivered substantially, though not in full measure. Entry into the government would mean compromises at the field level where the two parties are now ranged against each other, in almost all constituencies.

Aspirations have increased among the rank file in constituencies which were earlier the BJPs.

Choosing between the two sides isn’t the easiest one for Uddhav Thackeray. Opting for any one and ignoring the other could lead to a serious internal churn which he may want to avoid. The BJP too is in a predicament. They have brought the Sena down several notches and the relationship cannot return to status quo ante, at least not anytime soon. The requirement of depending on the Sena to ensure a majority government and reduce the dependence on the Nationalist Congress party is compelling.

It is so because an outside support, as often argued here, is full of uncertainty. Sharad Pawar does not dish out free lunches. Having kept mum on the Sena and going against the NCP on all cylinders in the campaign, the embarrassment of the BJP to take their support and simultaneously act against corruption cases would be acute.

The counsel to Fadnavis by Narendra Modi that “He should work for the people rather than saving the government” – read hard decisions – implies the compulsions the NCP offers. Thus, Sena comes back into the picture.

Sharad Pawar’s political acumen is such that his Nationalist Congress Party, with the fourth lowest number of seats – 41 to Congress’ 42 – can provide the stable government he has spoken of, for almost the next five years, or till such time it suits his purposes. Stability the BJP can hope for could be a factor of its ability to meet NCP’s quiet demands from time to time.The issues NCP may want settled are of make-or-break importance to it.

But they would of course be informally handled, generally without the world even getting a whiff of it. It would not be a daily trade-offs on show, but enough to weaken BJP’s, via Narendra Modi’s campaign themes, had promised. Fadnavis has already touched upon the need to act on cases.

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