Even as the BJP puts the finishing touches to its plans to formally take over the Maharashtra government – it will anoint Devendra Fadnavis as the Maharashtra Chief Minister this evening – the Shiv Sena is still in a quandary. Join the BJP and accept its position as a lesser partner, or sit in the opposition and stay out of power for another five years?
And with time running out for the party, it looks like the BJP is not going to make things any easier for the Sena leadership.
To join or not to join? Sena still in two minds as BJP seals deal on Fadnavis
The Sena has already made a dramatic climbdown from its earlier position of anti-BJP vitriol and gone from insisting that there was no Modi wave to crediting both the Prime Minister and BJP president Amit Shah for the party’s performance in Maharashtra.
“On the day of Laxmi Pooja, Devendra Fadnavis met Nitin Gadkari and took his blessings. Later Gadkari met the RSS chief and took his blessings. All these blessings are undoubtedly important, but the blessings of the people are the most important. Shiv Sena is ready to support anyone who will take Maharashtra ahead with the blessings of the people”, the editorial said.
The Shiv Sena HQ in DelhiThe Shiv Sena HQ in Delhi
To add to that, in an unprecedented move, two party leaders actually went to Delhi to meet with the BJP leadership. As pointed out by Firstpost columnist Mahesh Vijapurkar this in itself was a huge gesture.
“Shiv Sena leaders, whether it was the late Bal Thackeray, later Uddhav Thackeray, and his cousin Raj Thackeray when in the party, have been averse to visiting New Delhi, somehow in the belief that the BJP was was never an equal. Right up until the Lok Sabha elections, BJP had always visited Matoshree, the Thackeray home. The tiger didn’t like to leave its den.”
But according to this Times of India report, even this is not enough for the BJP.
Matoshree is still angling for deputy CMship and the assembly speaker’s post and has set its sights on the key home portfolio as well. This is at variance with what the BJP feels it can give. The BJP, which now considers itself the senior partner in the combine, is clear that the Sena should extend support without any conditionalities, sources said.
The BJP position is clearly being strengthened by the fact that the NCP has already said that it will abstain on the floor of the house during the trust vote, allowing the BJP to pass its first test.
And as the BJP continues to play hardball, some elements within the Shiv Sena feel that party president Uddhav Thackeray should ideally choose to sit in the opposition rather than face this continuing humiliation at the hands of the national party.
“BJP has pushed us too far and already caused a lot of humiliation. Even if we join the government, it is clear that our share is going to be meager. BJP, going by the past experience, will make things difficult for us. It will be better if we sit in the opposition and make a plan to rebuild the party,” one Yuva Sena functionary from Dadar told Firstpost.
And according to the Indian Express, some Sainiks have put up boards saying “Swabhiman Dakhva (Show some self-respect)”.
But as one party leader told the Express, the quandary before Uddhav Thackeray is not quite so cut and dry.
“Uddhav is like a man thrown into a river with his hands tied. He fears seniors will desert him if he keeps a distance from the BJP, but is also afraid of an exodus if he ties up with the BJP. The party is feeling Bal Thackeray’s absence”, the leader was quoted as saying.
While many political observers have said that the more prudent decision for Uddhav would be to join the opposition – Firstpost columnist Mahesh Vijapurkar had also said the party would have more merit as an opposition party – there is a powerful and influential section of the party that is pushing for a deal with the BJP.
“A number of Sena leaders have been out of power too long. The ambitions of the younger lot are high. It is these leaders who are driving the Sena leadership in cosying up to the BJP,” journalist and Sena watcher Umesh Mohite was quoted as saying by the Express.
The Times of India says that despite plans for the grand inauguration ceremony due to take place at Wankhede stadium, there is still some leeway for a later swearing in of Sena ministers, if a deal is indeed agreed upon. This means that the BJP has left the party with a small window of opportunity, akin to leaving the door slightly ajar.
So what next for the Sena? At this point, even party leaders seem unsure.