As the Shiv Sena turned 50 last week, we take a look at some of the several ups and downs in its long chequered political history. At times it has endeared its now estranged ally the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and at times it has made overtures to its opponents the Congress. Today despite being in power both at the Center and in the state, it is behaving as the “Ruling Opposition”, edging the opposition Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) out of the opposition space.
Much has changed since June 19, 1966, the day that late Sena Chief Balasaheb Thackeray launched the party in Dadar, the Mubmai suburb that has since remained it's heartland. Sena Chief Balasaheb Thackeray used his cartoon creativity to good effect, evoking strong sentiments amongst the sons of the soil against migrants and migrant labour. Using that as a strong foundation, he spread the message of his party to four corners of the state by 1980s. Realising that the Sena too adhered to the Hindutva plank and its outreach in the masses, late BJP leader Pramod Mahajan convinced the party to have a poll alliance with Sena, an effort that came to fruition in 1989.
By 1992-93 as BJP's late Gopinath Munde launched tirade after tirade against the then Congress government led by Sharad Pawar over criminalisation of politics, the now late Sena Chief too backed Munde. This propelled the Sena to power in 1995. The initial euphoria soon died down as the Sena leadership began treating the BJP with scant disregard to their stature. It was in 2004 that the now late Mahajan had forecasted that within a decade the BJP would wrest power on its own. It almost did in October 2014 but ultimately had to woo its hurt ally back to sharing power.
This time the roles have reversed the Sena who was the big brother and one who projected itself as the champion of undivided Maharashtra, now finds itself demoted to being the younger brother. With the crucial civic elections to Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation due in early 2017, the gloves are already off between the Sena and the BJP. Their tactics of playing shadow boxing with each other might well work, but it might also lead to public opinion turning against them. It might just be the spark that could revive the Congress and NCP. Then of course, there are the MNS, AAP and MIM which are waiting in the wings.
It seems as though that both parties have either forgotten or are conveniently turning a blind eye to the fact that on paper, they are both in power. The bureaucracy and the administration is having a field day as ministers are wading into controversies or are behaving like “Alice in Wonderland”. The Sena is certainly not the rabble rouser it was in it's hegy days. And the BJP too is not the cadre based party it used to be once. 2017 is not just about BMC elections, its an election packed year ahead. Will they end up parting their ways formally? Only time will tell.