Mumbai: The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) drubbing in the Bihar polls has emboldened not just opposition parties but also its allies in states like Maharashtra. The Shiv Sena, a junior ally to the BJP in the Maharashtra government, appears to be using the BJP’s Bihar defeat to flex its muscles. A show of this recently rediscovered confidence is likely on Tuesday, the third death anniversary of Sena founder Bal Thackeray.

The Sena, with 63 seats in the 288-member Maharashtra assembly, is using the occasion to make a big power statement aimed not at the opposition Congress or Nationalist Congress Party NCP) but its ally the BJP. Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who fought a bitter war of words with Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray in the recent civic elections in the state, is expected to share the stage with the latter at an event on Tuesday to commemorate Bal Thackeray. Thousands of Shiv Sainiks are likely to converge on the legendary Shivaji Park ground in Dadar to pay tributes to the Sena founder. The Sena, buoyed by its good show in the civic polls, is using the event as a morale booster for its cadre.

On Tuesday morning, Fadnavis announced his government’s plan to build a Bal Thackeray memorial in Mumbai, which has been a long-pending Sena demand. While the BJP had never opposed a memorial, it has also not shown great urgency in identifying a suitable place for the monument until now. But the Bihar debacle appears to have forced a change in the BJP’s approach towards its allies.

Since the 8 November Bihar verdict, a few developments in Maharashtra show just how the BJP has been forced to tone down its rhetoric. Fadnavis has indicated that he is ready for a cabinet reshuffle to accommodate a couple of Sena ministers. The Sena has openly protested against getting ‘fewer’ ministerial berths and ‘insignificant’ portfolios. The reshuffle may happen before the winter session of the Maharashtra legislature starting on 7 December in Nagpur.

“Arrogance was all that the BJP demonstrated after Modi became the Prime Minister and it won the largest number of seats in Maharashtra. The delivery of goodies and promises made before elections has been patchy yet the rhetoric has been that of a divine ruler who has achieved all. They had to be taught a lesson and voters in Bihar have done just that," a senior Sena leader and minister in the Fadnavis cabinet said on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s decision to invite Uddhav Thackeray to his swearing-in could also add to the BJP’s discomfort. Uddhav politely declined, but personally called Nitish Kumar to congratulate him. Kumar has also invited BJP veteran L.K. Advani to the oath-taking but not Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Senior journalist and political commentator Kumar Ketkar said the Sena has found its voice after the Bihar verdict.

“There is a sudden change in the body language of all the parties, most prominently the BJP. That is why it is ready to accommodate a few Sena ministers now. The message for the BJP and also Sena from Bihar is simple and clear. If polls are held today in Maharashtra and if the BJP-Sena fight together, they will get around 70 to 80 seats each. If they fight independently, the Congress-NCP may actually have a slender edge," Ketkar said.

He said the troubles for the BJP in Maharashtra will also intensify for Maharashtra-specific caste combinations. Fadnavis, a Brahmin, is already resented by the Maratha lobby within the BJP itself, Ketkar said.

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