5 reasons why Shiv Sena must be cautious in fight with BJP

The war of words between alliance partners BJP and Shiv Sena is getting uglier day by day and it does not appear as if things will become calm anytime soon.

Over a week after the results were declared, there is no clarity with respect to the government formation in Maharashtra. The NDA won a comfortable majority of 161 out of 288 seats, albeit 24 lesser than 2014.

In Haryana where BJP fell short of majority, the party swung into action, roping in Dushyant Chautala and offering him the deputy chief minister’s post. The oath-taking ceremony took place on the auspicious occasion of Diwali, just two days after the results were declared on October 24.

In Maharashtra, both the alliance partners have lost seats compared to previous state elections, BJP (-17) and Sena (-7). A weaker performance by the BJP, especially in the chief minister’s backyard, Vidarbha, has emboldened the Shiv Sena, which has raised its demand for 50:50 power sharing formula.

It wants to have a rotational chief minister arrangement and half of the cabinet portfolios.

On the other hand, BJP is not giving in yet, with Fadnavis claiming that no such formula was ever discussed. After his statement, Sena cancelled a meeting with BJP for talks for government formation. BJP is adamant and the swearing in ceremony of Devendra Fadnavis is expected to be held in the next couple of days.

However, there were some signs of a thaw when it was reported that the Shiv Sena had softened its stance and was ready to accept the deputy chief minister’s post.

But that was over 24 hours ago. The Sena has again hardened its stance and is adamant on getting the chief minister’s chair.

The BJP hopes to rope in independents and smaller parties, sail through the confidence motion like in 2014, and then pressurize Sena to join the ministry on its terms. In 2014, all the four parties – BJP, SHS, INC and NCP – contested separately. BJP and Sena were bickering at that time too. NCP MLAs abstained during the confidence vote helping Devendra Fadnavis to pass the floor test.

After a month or so, Sena and BJP patched up and Thackeray’s party was inducted into the Cabinet.

In 2019, the roles have reversed, NCP is flirting with Sena, and instigating it to take up arms against its ideological partner.

Both BJP and Sena are clamouring to get the independents and smaller parties, who have won 29 seats, on board. Fadnavis has claimed support of 15 independents mostly BJP rebels. As per reports, 3 independent MLAs have pledged support to BJP, while 2 MLAs of Prahar Janshakti Party to Shiv Sena. The race has begun to rope in independents, just like before the polls to induct defectors from Congress and NCP.

The bitter feud reminds me of a Bollywood song:
Sena to BJP: ‘Kya hua tera wada, wo kasam wo irada.’

BJP to Sena: ‘Wada to nibhaya, o mere raja’.

The Sena should, however, be cautious in picking up its battle with the BJP for the following reasons:

1. Sena doesn’t have moral right

The Shiv Sena is talking about an improved performance in Maharashtra Assembly Elections and demanding a 50:50 formula on the basis of:

  • Sena’s losses (-7) are half of BJP’s losses of 15 seats

  • Sena’s tally as % of BJP tally has improved to 53.3% in 2019 vs 51.6% in 2014.

  • Sena’s tally as % of NDA tally has improved to 34.78% in 2019 vs 33.87% in 2014.

  • However, it has to bear in mind that the Shiv Sena’s tally is just about half of BJP strength. Its strike rate, seats won divided by seats contested, is only 45% (56/124) versus 64% of BJP (105/164). By the above numbers, the most it can lay claim to is one-third portfolio.

2. Sena may face rebellion

As per a BJP Rajya Sabha MP, 45 newly elected Rajya Sabha MPs are in touch with BJP and want the alliance government to be formed. Sena will need to take this threat seriously. In recent times, ‘Operation Kamal’ has:

  • led to downfall of Congress and JDS government in Karnataka,

  • two-third of Goa legislature party of Congress merging with BJP,

  • 10 out of 13 MLAs of Sikkim Democratic Front joining the BJP and making it the main opposition party in the state,

  • 4 out of 6 TDP Rajya Sabha MPs joining the BJP

  • 6 MLAs of JMM and Congress joining BJP in Jharkhand

These are just a few of the examples, if the Sena dithers in supporting the BJP, it could lead to a split in the regional party. MLAs could be lured with plum portfolios. All of this would happen over time, and would appear to be voluntary in nature.

3. Complementary vote blocks mean it could lose further vote share in upcoming polls

The BJP, the previous junior partner and the current senior partner in the alliance, has been consistently winning more seats than Sena since 2009 state elections. Its strike rate has always been better than that of the Sena.

Piggybacking on Sena’s Marathi manoos and urban middle class vote bank, the BJP has been able to add Gujarati and North Indian voters to this combination. Over the years it has built a strong base among upper caste and OBC voters. Consequently, BJP’s vote share today is 8%-10% higher than the Sena’s.

The Shiv Sena received a scare in the BMC elections in Mumbai, when it got just two seats more than BJP, 84 versus 82. It has been ruling the BMC for the last 30 years. The nature of ‘complementarity of vote blocks’ means the BJP has the ability to garner the lion’s share of the main voting segments of the Sena and also give it a run for its money in 2022 BMC elections.

5. Alliance with NCP-INC will be looked upon as unholy / opportunistic

Sena doesn’t have the numbers to form a government on its own. If it aligns with NCP and Congress to occupy the CM chair, it would appear as unholy and opportunistic to a large section of its voters. It has been ideologically opposing the Congress for almost 5 decades in the state. It supports Ram Mandir construction, Article 370, Triple Talaq, which the UPA partners vehemently oppose.

A large section of its urban voters won’t be able to digest this new bonhomie between unnatural allies. There is also a risk of Congress and NCP eating into the vote bank of Sena, especially the Maratha voters.

5. Loses spots in Modi Cabinet

The party will also lose its ministerial berth in the Narendra Modi cabinet. Being part of government at the Centre brings along with it perks and resources for regional parties. Sena could risk losing all of this. Its MPs could also be poached by the BJP.

To sum up, NDA supporters believe that better sense will prevail and the two partners would kiss and make up, like they did in 2014. Any misadventure on the part of Sena could have serious repercussions like TDP’s Naidu had to face after he left NDA.