Sacred Games

The BJP and Shiv Sena’s dharmayudh in Maharashtra

01 August 2018
Since the death of Bal Thackeray, the Sena has been at its weakest. The BJP, on the other hand, riding the Modi wave, is at its strongest. Even so, a war between the saffron parties may hurt both parties’ chances in the 2019 elections.
KUNAL PATIL/ HINDUSTAN TIMES / GETTY IMAGES
Since the death of Bal Thackeray, the Sena has been at its weakest. The BJP, on the other hand, riding the Modi wave, is at its strongest. Even so, a war between the saffron parties may hurt both parties’ chances in the 2019 elections.
KUNAL PATIL/ HINDUSTAN TIMES / GETTY IMAGES

In the wake of the 2002 anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat, Narendra Modi, then chief minister of the state, was under attack from all sides. Several leaders, even within his own Bharatiya Janata Party, held him responsible for the violence and wanted him to step down. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee advised Modi to perform raj dharma—the duty of a ruler—a remark many construed as a reprimand. The national executive meeting of the BJP, scheduled in April that year in Goa, was seen as a “make or break” affair for the controversial leader from Gujarat.

At this critical time, the Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray sent two of his senior members of parliament, Chandrakant Khaire and Mohan Rawale, to Gujarat to publicly back Modi. Known as the Hindu Hriday Samrat, or the King of Hindu Hearts, Thackeray himself made it clear that he approved of Modi. The moral support from the Sena, an important ally in Vajpayee’s government, was crucial in saving Modi.

By September 2014, the power dynamic between Modi and the Sena had been reversed. In May of that year, Modi became prime minister. Bal Thackeray had died in 2012, and his heir Uddhav was steadying the Sena ship. Modi, however, was not going to be as generous as the Sena had been.

The BJP had always played second fiddle to the Sena, which had always been the “elder brother” in Maharashtra. But riding on their success in the 2014 general election, Modi and the BJP’s new president Amit Shah decided to aim higher, with the October 2014 Maharashtra assembly polls approaching. It was time to expand the empire.

Though the Sena offered the BJP more seats than it had in the previous elections, the BJP kept up its demand for more seats, resulting in a deadlock. When Uddhav refused to cede ground, the BJP declared that it would go solo, snapping a 25-year alliance with the Sena that had lasted for most of the two parties’ electoral histories. The results came as a rude shock to the Sena—the BJP won 122 seats, while the Sena only won 63, in a house of 288 seats.

Sunil Gatade is a Delhi-based journalist. He was an associate editor at the Press Trust of India, for which he covered politics and other issues for 38 years.

Keywords: Maharashtra Congress BJP politics Bal Thackeray Amit Shah Shiv Sena Narendra Modi NCP Uddhav Thackeray Bharatiya Janata Party
COMMENT