A day after Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray created a stir by saying the Chief Minister’s post was not a priority for him, the party has clarified that it has not given up its entitlement on the post. But same party’s MP Sanjay Raut said “Maharashtra’s Chief Minister will be from the Shiv Sena and Uddhav Thackeray will run the government. At this moment Sena-BJP in the state is going through leadership crises. Gopinath Munde’s sudden death put BJP at the crossroads before assembly election. Either Nitin Gadkari or Uddhav Thackeray will have to lead joining their hands for success. Maha election winning will enhance the party’s relationship with centre. At this moment, the Maharashtra unit of the BJP is immensely handicapped by the absence of its senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde, especially with the assembly elections just a month away. BJP has no face to present as their state leader and Sena’s Uddhav does not have that ability to be the mass leader as his popularity is limited to Marathi Manoos. Now, even if the BJP has more MLAs than the Sena, it lacks a leader who enjoys mass following like Munde did and the stature to occupy the CM’s chair. Union minister Nitin Gadkari is not keen to return to the state and so, in all possibility, the party will accept Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray for the coveted post. With Munde’s death, it will take a long time for the state BJP to find a leader of his calibre to lead the party. Devendra Fadnavis is communicative and enjoys the full backing of the RSS, but he is not known to have a mass base outside Vidarbha — the area where he hails from. Also, he belongs to the Brahmin community, which has a relatively small presence in the state. The other leaders are there but none of them are known faces to masses. Munde was the only leader in the state unit who had followers across every district and taluka of the state.
If we compare Sena and BJP leaders, then Uddhav is politically far more experienced than any state BJP leader. Also, the Sena chief has the advantage of being accepted as a pan-Maharashtra leader. The Shiv Sena-BJP alliance came to power in Maharashtra in 1995 on the back of a storm generated by Munde across the state. After the 1993 blast, Sharad Pawar links with some D-company and the controversial people, generated votes for Sena-BJP, there after never. Therefore, he attacked Pawar and ensured a victory for the alliance. There were only two stalwarts in the state, one is Bal Thackeray and opponent Sharad Pawar, but now the scenario is changed and Pawar still exists. Munde is the one who introduced OBC’s to BJP; earlier the party was dominated by Brahmins. One more important factor is that, Munde was one of the designers of the Sena-BJP alliance and was the go-between for the BJP and Balasaheb Thackeray family, now both don’t exist. After Mahajan’s death, Munde had taken over the role of pacifying late Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray and Uddhav whenever relations curdled between the coalition partners. Munde was one of the few leaders in the BJP who the Thackerays trusted and had an open house at Matoshree. The present generation of BJP does not have Munde kind of connect with Sena leadership and political maturity to overcome vagaries of alliance.
Munde never lost an election and won the Lok Sabha polls this year too despite Pawar launching a continued elusive caste campaign against him. He also managed to stitch an alliance of five parties along with the Sena to ensure that they swept the polls. Munde roped in strong Congress-NCP leaders into the BJP and got them to fight elections against the opposition heavyweights. Eventually, they managed to defeat Congress-NCP candidates. Now, the BJP lacks a mass leader to lead the election campaign in the assembly polls.
However, some in the party are wondering whether Thackeray intends to stay out of the Chief Minister’s chair and install a leader from the party for the post. Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray had used this strategy and claimed he ran the government through “remote control”. Thackeray’s comments came at the time when the Shiv Sena and its ally the Bharatiya Janata Party are battling over the seat-sharing arrangement for the Maharashtra polls. The BJP has demanded half the Assembly seats from its ally and has made it clear it is also interested in the Chief Minister’s post. Thackeray’s comments had triggered speculation on whether the Shiv Sena had ceded its claim to the post. When Shiv Sena recently started projecting party president Uddhav Thackeray as its chief ministerial candidate in Maharashtra, the BJP’s state unit zeroed in on other candidates as its best bet for the position. Among the hopefuls in the state are BJP state unit president Devendra Phadnavis and leader of opposition in the state council Vinod Tawde. Phadnavis’ supporters have already raised the slogan “Delhi mein Narendra, Mumbai mein Devendra (Narendra Modi in Delhi, Devendra in Mumbai)”, but Phadnavis, a Brahmin, may not be acceptable to Khadse and a few others in the party.
Anyway, the BJP is in a peculiar situation, facing an unusual challenge from its own alliance partner Shiv Sena, which has no dispute about who its one leader is. If it becomes clear that the BJP and Sena are in a position to bring the Congress-NCP government down in Maharashtra, the next tussle will be between these two alliance partners for the top (chief minister’s) post. Anyways there are many in queue, such as Maharashtra Legislative Council Vinod Tawde, BJP Mumbai chief Ashish Shelar, party leader Pankaja Munde and newly elected Poonam Mahajan, but none of them have any caliber to lead the party in state.
Let’s see, the BJP believes it can still ride on the parliamentary elections with Modi wave in Maharashtra and, unlike in the Lok Sabha polls, where it won with Modi as a clear PM candidate, it is not even projecting a chief minister, which it probably would have had if it had not lost senior leader Gopinath Munde. The BJP also believes that it now has a controlling edge in its not-always-happy alliance with the Shiv Sena, with whom it has sparred over seat sharing as well as over the latter’s projection of its party boss Uddhav Thackeray as a CM candidate. There is also the matter of tackling the Sena’s breakaway faction, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. The Congress-NCP alliance has not been without hiccups, either. That too has had its share of seat-sharing squabbles and charges and counter charges of scams. Whoever wins Maharashtra’s elections, one thing is clear: it is often said that to win India, a political side has to win in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh; it can equally be said that to win elections, political parties have to ensure that they win in its wealthiest state Maharashtra.