It is said that “there are no permanent enemies or friends in politics, just permanent interest”. It was in the interest of Shiv Sena to save itself from becoming irrelevant in Maharashtra politics.
After riding on the popularity of Ram Janmabhoomi Andolan and subsequent demolition of Babri mosque, the BJP came very close to power in 1996. However, the 13-day government collapsed after Atal Bihari Vajpayee resigned. Mr Vajpayee could only come up with 200 members supporting his government, strong 72 short of the majority. Rather than facing the confidence vote, Mr Vajpayee decided to resign.
The becoming of NDA
However, the excruciating pain of being so close to power still being so far away from it, must have made Mr Vajpayee aware of what he lacked to be the Prime Minister of India. It was then that Vajpayee, along with his aide Lal Krishna Advani, started communicating with regional parties to form what later became to be known as “National Democratic Alliance” (NDA).
Bal Thackeray’s Shiv Sena was the founding member of this alliance along with Samta Party and AIADMK. Shiv Sena was the only party that believed in Hindutva, other than the BJP. It was so much so that Bal Thackeray, the Shiv Sena supremo, had claimed in many interviews about active involvement of Shiv Sena in 1992 demolition of the 16th-century mosque in Ayodhya. It was the Babri Demolition, followed by the Mumbai riots, that helped Shiv Sena come to power for the first time in the state. Mr Thackeray never shied away from boasting about his Hindutva.
BJP finding a regional ally having similar ideological position was a blessing. The Sena and BJP were made for each other. Being part of NDA, they both grew and flourished together. Two decades after the formation of NDA, both the parties have come a long way. The BJP gained popularity in Maharashtra and the Shiv Sena had a significant role to play in making that happen. In 1999 Lok Sabha elections, contesting the 48 seats in Maharashtra, the NDA secured 28 seats. Shiv Sena won 15 of those seats, while the BJP won 13. However, the alliance could not win the assembly polls that were held at the same time. INC+ came to power. Vilasrao Deshmukh of Congress became Chief Minister, and NCP’s Chhagan Bhujbal became Deputy CM.
Mr Thackeray, unmoved by the defeat in the assembly polls, continued targeting the Congress and the NCP. NCP Supremo Sharad Pawar, more often than not, was at the centre of Mr Thackeray’s fierce attacks. In an interview to NDTV in 1999, Bal Thackeray had used the term “scoundrel” while rejecting the possibility of any alliance with Sharad Pawar.
“Possibility in politics…what? If at all it is said that it is a game of scoundrels, it is for a man to decide whether he wants to remain a gentleman or a scoundrel. If anybody’s trying to become a scoundrel, then? But I will not go along with a scoundrel, whoever he may be,” Mr Thackeray had said.
However, apart from the political exchanges, the two leaders were said to be good friends with each other. Both families would visit each other’s places. Both Thackeray and Pawar have spoken about this on different platforms. It was the era of Indian politics when you could have political differences with each other, and still remain friends outside the compulsions of politics.
Age old rivalry
However, political rivalry did not subside with time. In a high-profile public interview of Pawar, conducted by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray in Pune in 2018, Mr Pawar said he had shared cordial relations with Shiv Sena founder late Bal Thackeray despite their political differences. Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, who was then in power with the BJP, taunted Mr Pawar for showing his affection by arresting his father when he was 70 years old.
“They tried to arrest the Sena chief [Bal Thackeray] in 2000 when he was 70 years old. We never saw any fondness at that time. No one was ready to take a stance. In fact, all the focus was on how to trap Balasaheb,” Uddhav alleged.
The political rivalry between the NCP and Shiv Sena had turned bitter when Chhagan Bhujbal walked out of the Shiv Sena with a group of supporters and joined the Congress under Sharad Pawar’s leadership. In 1999-2000, Chhagan Bhujbal became the deputy CM of Maharashtra when INC and NCP formed the government. He also had the responsibility of the Home department. Bhujbal, back then, seemingly did the unthinkable. He ordered the arrest of Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray for writing editorials in Samaana, the party mouthpiece, from December 1992 to January 1993 that allegedly incited communal violence after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Bal Thackeray was arrested on July 25, 2000, and taken to a chief metropolitan magistrate’s court. However, the magistrate threw out the case, saying it was time-barred and also questioned the long delay in filing a charge-sheet.
It was the arrest of Bal Thackeray led to the strengthening of his vow to never join hands with the NCP. In the meantime, the relationship between the BJP and Shiv Sena flourished. Both parties enjoyed power in the centre from 1999-2004, until Vajpayee conceded defeat in 2004 general elections. However, the bond between BJP and Shiv Sena remained the same and they emerged stronger as an opposition. It took both the parties 10 intense years in opposition to come back to power in 2014. It was also the first time when NDA was in power both at the centre and the state at the same time. Everything seemed like a fairy tale for the Hindtuva-duo.
When both parties fought assembly elections together for the first time in 1990, long before NDA came into existence, Shiva Sena contested 183 seats while BJP fought on 105 seats. The ratio came down to 171:117 for Shiv Sena in 1999 assembly elections. For the 2009 assembly elections, the two parties stitched up a new 169:119 seat-sharing arrangement. However, Shiv Sena suffered a major blow as it could only win 44 seats. On the other hand, the BJP won 46 seats, becoming the more successful alliance partner among the two.
Dost Dost Na Raha?
In 2014, the seat-sharing equations became more complex for the alliance partners. The Shiv Sena offered 119 seats to the BJP and 18 seats to four other allies, keeping 151 to contest itself. After several rounds of negotiations, the parties did not reach a conclusion. Both parties decided to fight the elections separately, only to come back together post-election. BJP, riding on the Modi wave, emerged as the single largest party winning 122 seats. Shiv Sena, however, managed to win 63 seats. Both came together to form the government in Maharashtra, and Devendra Fadnavis became the Chief Minister.
Meanwhile, the bitterness between the two allies started growing. BJP’s ambitions to expand its reach in Maharashtra did not go well. The parties had a fallout once in 2014 over seat-sharing. Though they came together for power, nothing was hunky-dory between two partners. One could often see contrasting statements made by leaders from both parties.
In 2017, over seat-sharing in civic polls in Mumbai and at other places in Maharashtra, both parties clashed again. “I will not bend in front of anybody. If somebody thinks we are lesser than them, we will displace them,” an aggressive Thackeray had told a gathering of party workers in suburban Goregaon without naming the BJP.
The drift grew more when Chief Minister Fadnavis said that he will reshuffle his cabinet. Maharashtra veteran Narayan Rane, who quit the Congress and launched his own party, was inducted into his team by Fadnavis. Rane, a former chief minister, had started his career with the Shiv Sena but they parted bitterly after he challenged Uddhav Thackeray’s elevation. Mr Rane had quit Sena, joining the Congress. Shiv Sena was gravely anguished by the induction of Rane by Fadnavis. Both Thackeray and Rane families have remained arch-rivals since Rane quit the Sena. The bitterness between them is often seen in the remarks passed against each other. Fadnavis’s attempts mock Sena as it helplessly remained in power did not go down well.
“Aamcha kharach tharlay?” (Have we really decided?)
Though, both Sena and BJP kept their differences aside before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Devendra Fadnavis, in an announcement along with BJP President Amit Shah and Uddhav Thackeray before 2019 Lok Sabha elections, had said that both parties had come to the agreement on uniform distribution of responsibilities and posts if the alliance comes back to power.
Sena and BJP cracked a pre-poll alliance before assembly polls in 2019. The seat count for Shiv Sena deteriorated further. In 2019 assembly elections, BJP contested 164 seats whereas Sena fought on 126 seats. Sena had officially become the “younger brother” in the alliance. From contesting 183 seats in the 1990 elections, its share in seat distribution had come down drastically in three decades to 126. However, both BJP and Sena kept mum on how they managed to crack the alliance despite growing differences between two parties. “Aamcha Tharlay” (We’ve decided), they would answer. However, nobody knew what agreement had been cracked between the two parties.
In 2019 assembly polls, as per political pundits, BJP fought to gain power single-handedly. Fadnavis not only aimed at continuing his stint as chief minister but also made sure that the BJP emerges as the single largest party. Uddhav Thackeray, in his Dussehra rally this week, said: “They put up candidates against our nominees.” Thackeray indicated that BJP tried to bring down winning seats of Sena by supporting dummy, independent or other party candidates against Sena candidates.
Many say that Fadnavis was highly optimistic about BJP winning Maharashtra polls on its own. However, when the results came out, the BJP had managed to win 105 seats. Shiv Sena, on the other hand, had won 56 seats. But the ball was now in Shiv Sena’s court. It was then that the party founded by Bal Thackeray raised the issue of CM post for 2.5 years. It said the agreement about the same was made during a meeting with Amit Shah before 2019 Lok Sabha elections. BJP, in complete contrast, rejected the claim made by Sena. BJP was not willing to give away the chief ministerial post to Sena candidate for 50% of the tenure.
Shiv Sena, humiliated by the consistent reduction in its seat-share, was even furious when it was denied the Chief Ministerial post. By this time, the Mumbai based party had had enough.
Sharad Pawar, whose party had won 54 seats, along with Congress that scored 44 seats, was watching the drama unfolding in the state from the sidelines. He even told reporters that his alliance had received a mandate to sit in the opposition and was not thinking of supporting Shiv Sena. Whereas, the veteran kept his backend channels open for the discussions. It was through those channels that the incumbent MahaVikas Aghadi (MVA) was formed in Maharashtra. As far as NDA was concerned, Shiv Sena called it quits.
In an unprecedented political turnaround, the Hindutva-vadi Shiv Sena joined hands with progressive and secular parties like Congress and NCP. It joined hands with the same NCP that it had vowed not to tie up with ever. Chhagan Bhujbal of NCP, who once ordered the arrest of Bal Thackeray, became a minister in the MVA government. How did Sena reach to this point in its political journey?
The consistent attempts by the BJP to grow and expand beyond what it had achieved were responsible for Sena to distance itself from the saffron party. Moreover, its demand for the 50:50 share in governance was not met as the BJP rejected the idea of Sena candidate becoming the CM for two and a half years. The Thackeray-led Sena had also seen BJP not only reducing the share of seats it contested from the alliance, but also trying to defeat Sena candidates by supporting others indirectly. The humiliation, the journey from “big brother” to “younger brother” in Maharashtra, and the promise made by Uddhav to Thackeray senior during his last days about making a Shiv Sainik the chief minister of Maharashtra, culminated into the decision Shiv Sena took. The midnight coup by Devendra Fadnavis along with Ajit Pawar only strengthened Sena’s resolve to not let the BJP come to power in Maharashtra again. The rest of the job was done by the political genius of Sharad Pawar.
It is said that “there are no permanent enemies or friends in politics, just permanent interest”. It was in the interest of Shiv Sena to save itself from becoming irrelevant in Maharashtra politics. For Sena to survive and flourish, the BJP was no more beneficial. However, it is for the BJP to ponder whether it was worth it. It lost the power and an only ally which took pride in its Hindutva.