The results of the elections for Maharashtra’s 288 assembly seats will be out in the next 48 hours. The BJP took a gamble by breaking up with its long time ally Shiv Sena and in the absence of a credible face in the state it was left to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to spearhead a high decibel BJP campaign.
Various exit polls have predicted that BJP is in a pole position. It is tipped to get between 124 and 151 seats. So going by the pollsters, BJP is likely to become the single largest party and may even get a majority on its own. However, if BJP falls short of the magic figure of 145, it will be forced to consider the option of aligning with another party. In that case, the chances of the two estranged partners – BJP and Shiv Sena – coming together again are high, primarily due to ideological considerations.
After falling out over seat sharing, BJP and Shiv Sena contested the elections separately. But the fact is, both parties have been out of power in Maharashtra for the last 15 years and now desperately crave it. Even though they indulged in mudslinging post the breakup, the recurrent theme throughout the campaign was to free the state from ‘Congress-NCP’ rule. Therefore, both parties may decide to bury the hatchet and move on. In such a situation, Hindutva can be the binding glue, an ideology both parties pay obeisance to.
During its campaign, Shiv Sena had launched a scathing attack on the BJP, accusing it of ‘backstabbing’, but party chief Uddhav Thackeray also maintained that he personally respected Modi. It was only towards the end that Uddhav sharpened his views against Modi, perhaps anticipating that the PM was about to take the game away from him. Modi, on his part, announced in his very first rally that he will not utter a word against Shiv Sena as he was deferential towards the late Balasaheb Thackeray. In all 27 rallies, Modi’s aim was to pitch BJP as a credible alternative to Congress-NCP.
While politics is an art of possibility, the chances of BJP and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) forming an alliance at this moment seems remote as state BJP leaders are not keen on it. NCP has a scam-tainted image and BJP will not like that dead weight on its back .The breakup of Congress-NCP, just an hour after BJP and Sena chose to part ways on September 25, fuelled speculation in political circles.
There were rumours of a secret deal between NCP and BJP to tie up post elections. But senior BJP leaders Vinod Tawde and Eknath Khadse have put an end to such speculations, saying whatever the results may be, the BJP will not form an alliance with NCP at any cost. Also, while addressing a rally in the Pawars’ bastion Baramati, Modi took a tough stand against NCP chief Sharad Pawar, urging people to end dynastic rule in that area.
With results just a couple of days away, political pundits are trying to carefully decipher state BJP president Devendra Fadnavis’s statement that Shiv Sena is not the ‘political opposition’ of the party. Many believe it is an indirect admission that BJP will reach out to its former ally if it fails to muster the numbers on its own.
According to exit polls, Sena will emerge the second largest party, and if this happens, Uddhav Thackeray may also consider the proposal of forming an alliance with the BJP, rather than going with NCP or Congress. The possibility of Sena-MNS alliance seems doomed by the exit polls, which have given Raj Thackeray’s party between 3 to 12 seats.
It is important to remember that although BJP and Sena parted ways for the elections, they are still in alliance at the Centre and running the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) together. The split in Maharashtra was primarily over Sena’s steadfast refusal to agree to the changing political situation in the state. It sought to stick to the agreement reached by Pramod Mahajan, Gopinath Munde and Bal Thackeray, which proclaimed that Sena will be the larger partner in the alliance. If BJP can indeed show in this election that it actually is the more powerful party even within Maharashtra, then Sena can also make a pragmatic choice.
It will help Sena to be relevant in the state and at the Centre rather than roaming in political wilderness. As for BJP, it can earn back a trusted ally which will have its back, especially during the passing of bills in the Rajya Sabha where the NDA is still in minority. It’s a win-win for both parties. All it will take is a conciliatory tone from BJP leaders and all can be forgotten. As they say in Hindi, “Subah kaa bhoola shaam ko ghar vaapas aata hai, toh use bhola nahi kehte.”
First published on dnaindia.com