On 4th May, Sharad Pawar predicts that BJP and Shiv Sena will part ways before the BMC election in 2017. Pawar’s comments on the day when the Sena has reiterated its stand against the separate Vidarbha state in an editorial in party mouthpiece Saamana, asking the BJP government to act against supporters of this demand. Ironically, state’s Chief Minister and BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis was one of the supporters of separate Vidarbha, when he was in opposition. Rather, it was his unsaid promise to his voters. Referring to the separatists in Jammu and Kashmir, who observe Independence Day as a Black Day and give ‘pro-Pakistan’ slogans, Saamna’s editorial announces that if those are called anti-national, then these people in Vidarbha too should be labelled as anti-Maharashtrians.
Shiv Sena’s ideology is based on Marathi nationalism and Hindu nationalism (Hindutva), founded on 19 June 1966 by political cartoonist Bal Thackeray. The party originally emerged from a movement in Mumbai demanding preferential treatment for Maharashtrians over migrants to the city. It is currently headed by Thackeray’s son, Uddhav Thackeray. Members of Shiv Sena are referred to as Shiv Sainiks. Although, the party’s primary base is still in Maharashtra, it has tried to expand to a pan-Indian base. In the 1970s, it gradually moved from advocating a pro-Marathi ideology to one supporting a broader Hindu nationalist agenda, as it aligned itself with the Bharatiya Janata Party. The party started taking part in Mumbai (BMC) Municipal elections since its inception. In 1989, it entered an alliance with BJP for Lok Sabha as well as Maharashtra assembly elections, the latter of which was temporarily broken in October 2014 Assembly elections but it was undone soon and Shiv Sena became part of the BJP government in Maharashtra in December 2014. It has been a coalition partner in the National Democratic Alliance since 1998, including the Vajpayee Government during 1998–2004 and the present Narendra Modi Government.
The Shiv Sena’s foray into electoral politics has rather curious origins. Its founder Balasaheb Thackeray supported the emergency, allied with various Congress factions; most notably the Congress (O) in the 1971 Lok Sabha elections. The party fielded three candidates in the Mumbai and Konkan region, without any success. The following year, it contested 26 seats and won one (the late Pramod Navalkar won from Girgaum). Thackeray publicly declared his support to the Emergency in 1975 and supported the Congress in the 1977 elections. In 1980, while the party did not contest from any seats, it supported the Congress in the elections, largely because of Thackeray’s excellent personal equations with then Chief Minister A.R. Antulay. Curiously enough, in 1979, the Shiv Sena forged an alliance with the Muslim League.
Enter the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Hailed as the BJP’s oldest partner, the alliance’s first major electoral foray together was in 1984, when two Shiv Sena leaders (including Manohar Joshi) unsuccessfully contested the Lok Sabha polls under the BJP symbol from Mumbai. The Shiv Sena was not included as a member of Sharad Pawar’s pre-poll experiment in 1985, which included an umbrella coalition of sorts, bringing together the BJP, the Janata Party and the Left among others.
After a four-year break, the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance (or Yuti) as we know it today, was formed 26 years ago in 1989, largely thanks to the efforts of the late Pramod Mahajan, then a BJP general secretary, who reached out to Thackeray. While “Hindutva” formed the ideological genesis of this alliance, its nature was based on the political reality of the day.
While the BJP was still growing as a party, its pan-India presence was reflected in the understanding that it would get more seats in the Lok Sabha elections. The Shiv Sena was itself growing in clout at a regional level, looking to expand its footprints into places like Nashik and Marathwada, beyond the regions it dominated (Mumbai-Thane and Konkan). This meant that the Shiv Sena would play senior partner at the state level, getting more seats for itself in the assembly polls. The two parties agreed a seat-sharing formula in 1990 where the Shiv Sena would contest 183 of the 288 seats in the Maharashtra Assembly and the rest went to the BJP. But over the years, as more parties joined the coalition or Mahayuti, those numbers have been readjusted to accommodate the aspirations of the smaller parties.
The events of the early 1990s— the riots (1992), that followed the Mumbai bomb blasts (1993), and the incumbent government’s mishandling of the riots—played an instrumental role in propelling the saffron alliance into power in 1995. Within six years of existence, the alliance formed its first government with the help of some Congress rebels who switched sides. Manohar Joshi of Shiv Sena was the coalition’s first Chief Minister in Maharashtra, while the late Gopinath Munde, of the BJP, was Deputy Chief Minister. It is also not the first time; the two parties are seen bickering in public. After the 1990 assembly elections, the Shiv Sena had its way and bagged the post of the leader of opposition.
The candidature of Manohar Joshi for the post was contested by his colleague Chhagan Bhujbal and the latter broke away from the party with a few MLAs to join the Congress. The Shiv Sena’s relations with the BJP soured for a while, and Munde was made the leader of opposition till the end of the assembly’s tenure.
The other issue of major disagreement between the two alliance partners concerns Vidarbha. While the Shiv Sena does not advocate the bifurcation of Maharashtra, the BJP is in favour of “smaller states” and supports Vidarbha’s statehood claims. The BJP’s proposals for a separate Vidarbha state are largely reflective of its performances in the region, once considered a Congress bastion. Much to the ire of the Shiv Sena, the BJP has, on several occasions tended to flirt with the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). The MNS put up a spectacular debut performance in 2009, when it severely dented the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance’s prospects.