The Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal are the BJP’s oldest allies.
Overcoming their extreme bitterness of recent years, the Shiv Sena and the BJP have eventually decided to remain partners in the coming election, as in 2014. This is bound to come as a huge relief to the BJP. The saffron party’s depleting stock was a cause of concern to it after demonetisation and defeat in three Hindi heartland states at the hands of the Congress. Its original allies were also acting cool. In the circumstances, the party was working overtime to strike new alliances, as with the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, which has come to fruition with five seats earmarked for the BJP.
Special efforts on the BJP’s part are also on to find a foothold in non-traditional areas like West Bengal and Odisha, with the Northeast looking uncertain after the unrest over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. In particular, the BJP was worried that the Sena might play contrary in Maharashtra, which — with its 48 Lok Sabha seats — is the country’s largest state after Uttar Pradesh.
The Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal are the BJP’s oldest allies. To this list was added Andhra Pradesh’s TDP, which kept faith with the saffron party for around two decades until last year, when the TDP detached itself, dissatisfied with the BJP’s responses to specific questions on Andhra Pradesh.
The TDP’s departure, and the Sena acting more like an Opposition party than a member of the ruling alliance in Maharashtra and at the Centre, was an obvious cause for concern in the BJP. This has now been dispelled with the announcement by Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis in the presence of BJP president Amit Shah and Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray in Mumbai on Monday.
The BJP has stooped a little to win. Although it won more seats than the Sena in the Assembly when the two parties fought separately in the last election, the two have now agreed to contest exactly the same number of Assembly seats in the next election. For the coming Lok Sabha polls, the BJP will fight only two seats more in Maharashtra than the Sena — a tokenistic acknowledgment of the saffron party’s all-India status in contrast with the Sena’s position as a state party, although of the same Hindutva hue.
There has long been unspoken competition between the two, with the BJP seeking dominance over the Sena in Maharashtra as well. This was strongly resented by the Sena, which seemed in no mood to give the BJP the status of “big brother”. That issue has now apparently been settled, at least for the time being.
Much would depend on how the two fare in the parliamentary poll as well as the next Assembly election. Acting separately, the Sena and the BJP would have been weak against a Congress-NCP combine in Maharashtra. By remaining together, they place the NDA on a better footing against any challengers.