Pla­cat­ing Sena a tough task for Modi-Shah

Business Standard - - POLITICS & PUBLIC AFFAIRS - SU­NIL GATADE

Amid spec­u­la­tion that the Lok Sabha elec­tion and the Ma­ha­rash­tra As­sem­bly polls will be held si­mul­ta­ne­ously, the ques­tion is whether Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi would pla­cate the Shiv Sena and stitch up an al­liance when the race is getting tighter in the state.

The Congress and the Na­tion­al­ist Congress Party have al­ready joined hands for the elec­tions.

The visit by elec­tion ex­pert and Janata Dal (United) Vice Pres­i­dent Prashant Kishor to Matoshree, the res­i­dence of Sena chief Ud­dhav Thack­eray, in Mum­bai last week, has stirred much in­ter­est amid sug­ges­tions from the Sena that this was a mis­sion from BJP Pres­i­dent Amit Shah.

But the BJP dis­missed the spec­u­la­tion. A se­nior Union min­is­ter made it plain that the ties be­tween the BJP and the Sena were old and did not need any bro­ker to mend them.

In­quiries re­vealed this was not Kishor’s first visit to Matoshree. It, how­ever, as­sumed im­por­tance as sev­eral Sena MPs as also party lead­ers were present dur­ing his meet­ing. Kishor’s tweet af­ter the meet­ing gave more than a hint that he was no me­di­a­tor but a well-wisher in the Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance (NDA). “Thank you for your warm hos­pi­tal­ity Ud­dhav ji and @AUThack­eray. As part of NDA, we look for­ward to join­ing forces with you in Ma­ha­rash­tra to help se­cure vic­tory ... ,” he tweeted.

The faith­ful are say­ing that the NDA’s seat-shar­ing deal in Bi­har sug­gested two things:

One, that the BJP is now more will­ing to ac­com­mo­date al­lies; and two, it au­gurs well for the fu­ture of the BJP-Sena al­liance in Ma­ha­rash­tra.

But, this is eas­ier said than done. All is not well be­tween the BJP and the Sena. This came to the fore again in the Lok Sabha last week when Sena rep­re­sen­ta­tive Anand Ad­sul pulled out all the punches to tar­get Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi and the BJP dis­pen­sa­tion on a va­ri­ety of is­sues, in­clud­ing de­mon­eti­sa­tion.

The Sena has been in­sist­ing on restora­tion of the ‘el­der brother’ sta­tus in the al­liance. This means that it wants to lead the govern­ment in the state af­ter the As­sem­bly polls if the com­bine comes to power.

But, Deven­dra Fad­navis, who has emerged as a leader in his own right in the last over four years, has at least twice as­serted that he will con­tinue as chief min­is­ter af­ter win­ning the As­sem­bly polls. The seat­shar­ing talks were held some time back be­tween the chief min­is­ter and Thack­eray.

The Sena, in a res­o­lu­tion at its na­tional ex­ec­u­tive meet­ing a year ago, had de­cided that it would con­test all fu­ture elec­tions on its own. But there have been con­cerns within the Sena, es­pe­cially among its MPs and MLAs, over go­ing it alone. With this, Thack­eray has painted him­self into a corner and there­fore, needs more than a face-saver in the form of an hon­ourable seat-shar­ing deal that gives more to the Sena.

The BJP, on the other hand, is main­tain­ing a deaf­en­ing si­lence on the al­liance is­sue as also the con­stant barbs and at­tacks from the Sena. Its re­frain is that it is con­fi­dent that be­ing old Hin­dutva al­lies, the al­liance will re­main in­tact.

Op­po­si­tion par­ties like the Congress and the NCP feel that the BJP and the Sena have per­fected the art of match-fix­ing with one play­ing the role of the ‘govern­ment’ and other ‘op­po­si­tion’ so as to oc­cupy a greater po­lit­i­cal space at their cost.

Af­ter giv­ing a ‘lib­eral’ deal to Ni­tish Ku­mar in Bi­har in which the BJP has sur­ren­dered some of the seats won by it to the JD-U, the key ques­tion is whether Modi-Shah would mol­lify Thack­eray with a sim­i­lar pack­age for the cause of an al­liance in Ma­ha­rash­tra.

Thack­eray has been tread­ing cau­tiously on the al­liance is­sue ap­pre­hend­ing that the BJP might take away its sev­eral sit­ting MPs and MLAs if he were to part ways.

"The tiger will ul­ti­mately turn out to be a paper tiger," say Sena de­trac­tors amid the grow­ing im­pres­sion that a de­ci­sion on the al­liance is­sue could test the pa­tience of all con­cerned.

An NDA leader, who does not be­long to ei­ther the BJP or the Sena, said that both the al­lies needed to re­alise that 2019 is nei­ther 2009 nor 2014, and there­fore, the al­liance is­sue needed to be re­solved through equal dis­tri­bu­tion of seats, leav­ing aside the ‘el­der brother’ de­mand. If the Sena and the BJP fail to come to­gether, it is ad­van­tage Congress-NCP in Ma­ha­rash­tra, said the NDA leader.

If the Shiv Sena and the BJP fail to come to­gether, it is ad­van­tage Congress-NCP in Ma­ha­rash­tra

Ud­dhav Thack­eray wants the BJP to re­store the ‘el­der brother’ sta­tus to Shiv Sena in Mahrash­tra

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