The Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) alliance, which has survived over 20 years despite differences, has often been equated to a marriage of convenience – BJP as a nagging wife, Sena a high-handed husband.
In the ’90s, Thackeray had sarcastically commented about BJP as ‘Kamlabai rusli’ (Kamlabai’s sulking), a pun on the then-sulking BJP.
In 1984, when BJP’s Pramod Mahajan proposed an alliance to Thackeray, what weighed on their minds was that they should consolidate the saffron vote bank against Congress.
The foundation of the political partnership was built on trust, not pure mathematical calculations. Thackeray shared an excellent rapport with former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and deputy prime minister LK Advani.
In Maharashtra, BJP always played second fiddle to the Sena as it had reconciled to the Sena’s political might, under Thackeray’s leadership. In return, Sena was aware of the BJP’s national canvas. This reflected in their division of seats for assembly and parliament polls.
In assembly polls, Sena was given a larger share while BJP was given a larger chunk for general elections. While ‘Hindutva’, as it emerged in the ’90s, remained the common factor between Sena and BJP, both charted their individual paths as regards tapping the vote bank. While Sena politics veered around the Marathi plank, BJP worked its way to elicit support from North Indians and Gujaratis. Both sides were seized of the ground realities of Dalits (10.5%) and Muslims (12-14%) voting for the Congress.
Success came to the alliance during the ’95 assembly polls in which it routed the Congress. Thackeray’s dream of hoisting the ‘bhagwa’ (saffron flag) at Mantralaya came true.Incidentally, 1995-99 was the only term the alliance held on to power.
At the Centre, the National Democratic Alliance retained power between 1998 and 2004, with BJP giving Sena plum portfolios.
In Maharashtra, Thackeray continued his vigil on the running of the administration, often causing embarrassment to the chief minister and his deputy. At a public meeting in 1997-98, Thackeray declared that Joshi may be the chief minister, but the remote control is held by him (Thackeray).
In three successive state assembly elections held in 1999, 2004 and 2009, the alliance had to remain content in the opposition. Friction between the allies started showing started shortly after they came to power in 1995 in Maharashtra. In 1999, BJP and Sena accused each other of defeating their candidates in the game of oneupmanship. In 2004, the alliance hit a new low with the BJP’s state unit demanding that they severe ties with the Sena. The RSS hatred for Sena was an open secret. The BJP’s constant complaint has been against Sena’s executive president Uddhav Thackeray.
In 2006, Sena’s split saw BJP demanding that they forge an alliance with Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. The BJP’s central leadership did not favour such an alliance as it felt that the Sena should not be betrayed as it’s the NDA’s most loyal ally.
On its part, the Sena has also exploited the factionalism within the BJP to its advantage. In 2012, the BJP is humming a different tune. Its senior leader Gopinath Munde has been advocating the concept of a grand alliance which would include the Sena, BJP, Republican Party and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.