Home / Politics / Policy /  The anatomy of an alliance: The BJP-Shiv Sena story

The Shiv Sena’s foray into electoral politics has rather curious origins. Its founder Balasaheb Thackeray supported the Emergency, allied with various Congress factions, most notably the Congress (O) in the 1971 Lok Sabha elections.

The party fielded three candidates in the Mumbai and Konkan region, without any success. The following year, it contested 26 seats and won one (the late Pramod Navalkar won from Girgaum). Thackeray publicly declared his support to the Emergency in 1975 and supported the Congress in the 1977 elections. In 1980, while the party did not contest from any seats, it supported the Congress in the elections, largely because of Thackeray’s excellent personal equations with then chief minister A.R. Antulay. Curiously enough, in 1979, the Shiv Sena forged an alliance with the Muslim League.

Enter the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), or BhaJap (as it is known in Maharashtra). Hailed as the BJP’s oldest partner, the alliance’s first major electoral foray together was in 1984, when two Shiv Sena leaders (including Manohar Joshi) unsuccessfully contested the Lok Sabha polls under the BJP symbol from Mumbai. The Shiv Sena was not included as a member of Sharad Pawar’s pre-poll experiment in 1985, which included an umbrella coalition of sorts, bringing together the BJP, the Janata Party and the Left among others.

After a four-year break, the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance (or Yuti) as we know it today, was formed 25 years ago in 1989, largely thanks to the efforts of the late Pramod Mahajan, then a BJP general secretary, who reached out to Thackeray. While “Hindutva" formed the ideological genesis of this alliance, its nature was based on the political reality of the day.

While the BJP was still growing as a party, its pan-India presence was reflected in the understanding that it would get more seats in the Lok Sabha elections. The Shiv Sena was itself growing in clout at a regional level, looking to expand its footprints into places like Nashik and Marathwada, beyond the regions it dominated (Mumbai-Thane and Konkan). This meant that the Shiv Sena would play senior partner at the state level, getting more seats for itself in the assembly polls.

The two parties agreed a seat-sharing formula in 1990 where the Shiv Sena would contest 183 of the 288 seats in the Maharashtra Assembly and the rest went to the BJP. But over the years, as more parties joined the coalition or Mahayuti, those numbers have been readjusted to accommodate the aspirations of the smaller parties.

The events of the early 1990s—the Mumbai bomb blasts (1992), the riots (1993) that followed and the incumbent government’s mishandling of the riots—played an instrumental role in propelling the saffron alliance into power in 1995. Within six years of existence, the alliance formed its first government with the help of some Congress rebels who switched sides. Manohar Joshi of Shiv Sena was the coalition’s first chief minister in Maharashtra, while the late Gopinath Munde, of the BJP, was deputy chief minister.

Despite the bonhomie between the two parties, their relations have often been described as a marriage of convenience, a classic case of a couple “who can’t live with each other, and unfortunately, can’t live without each other". It is also not the first time the two parties are seen bickering in public. After the 1990 assembly elections, the Shiv Sena had its way and bagged the post of the leader of opposition.

The candidature of Manohar Joshi for the post was contested by his colleague Chhagan Bhujbal and the latter broke away from the party with a few MLAs to join the Congress. The Shiv Sena’s relations with the BJP soured for a while, and Munde was made the leader of opposition till the end of the assembly’s tenure.

The BJP would also, very often, be a subject of criticism by the Shiv Sena, especially when the former was in power in Karnataka, and the sensitive boundary issue of Belgaum came up. The BJP is often referred to as Kamlabai (kamla being a reference to the BJP’s lotus symbol) by the Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna. In a 2009 editorial outlining the B.S. Yeddyurappa-led Karnataka government’s alleged “atrocities against the Marathis" in Karnataka, the Saamna wrote, “We implore L.K. Advani to save the Marathi people from the ‘kamlabai’ gone wild in Karnataka". In 1999, differences between the two parties played out in public when the then National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government allowed a cricket tour between India and Pakistan. The Shiv Sena threatened to disrupt cricket matches if the tour was allowed to go on.

The other issue of major disagreement between the two alliance partners concerns Vidarbha. While the Shiv Sena does not advocate the bifurcation of Maharashtra, the BJP is in favour of “smaller states" and supports Vidharba’s statehood claims. The BJP’s proposals for a separate Vidarbha state is largely reflective of its performances in the region, once considered a Congress bastion.

Much to the ire of the Shiv Sena, the BJP has, on several occasions tended to flirt with the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). The MNS put up a spectacular debut performance in 2009, when it severely dented the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance’s prospects. The MNS was blamed for dividing the Marathi vote, and playing a key role in the Congress-NCP alliance coming back to power for a third term.

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