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Another chapter in the love-hate relationship: BJP and Shiv Sena alliance puts NDA in the pole position in Maharashtra

The BJP-Shiv Sena alliance puts NDA in the pole position in Maharashtra. If they select the right candidates and manage to contain rebellion, NDA can repeat the 2014 performance in Maharashtra.

Another chapter in the love-hate relationship between BJP and Shiv Sena was written yesterday when the two parties announced an alliance for not only the upcoming Lok Sabha election but also the assembly election due later this year. The alliance was announced in a star-studded press conference by BJP president Amit Shah, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis and several senior leaders from both the parties.

The announcement follows several months of veiled and open threats by both alliance partners to go solo. BJP will contest 25 seats, while Shiv Sena will contest 23. What will happen to the two other allies of BJP – Ramdas Athawale’s RPI and Mahadev Jankar’s RSP remains to be seen.

The history of BJP and Shiv Sena in the last 5 years is nothing short of a teenage love story – they fought 2014 Lok Sabha elections together but broke-up within a few months for the assembly election. They patched-up post assembly election to form the government but have fought civic body and Panchayat elections separately. The alliance announcement might not be the “happily ever after” moment, but it certainly is a win-win situation for both.

To appreciate this, it’s important to understand the political landscape of Maharashtra –

2014 Lok Sabha and assembly elections

Before 2014, Shiv Sena had always been the big brother in the assembly elections. BJP and Shiv Sena fought the 2014 Lok Sabha election together and swept the state by winning 23 and 18 seats respectively (1 seat was won by another alliance partner – Swabhimani Paksha, which is no longer a part of NDA). Brimming with confidence, BJP demanded an equal share in the assembly election due in October that year. Shiv Sena outrightly rejected this demand. After several rounds of negotiations, both the parties decided to fight the assembly election separately. BJP’s confidence was not misplaced as it emerged as the single largest party winning almost twice as many seats as Shiv Sena won. Since then, BJP has become the de-facto senior partner.

2014-2018 civic body and Panchayat elections

In the last four years, BJP has grown at the grassroot level in the state. Under the leadership of Devendra Fadnavis, the party performed spectacularly in civic body and Panchayat elections conducted in the state in last four years. BJP emerged as the largest party while Shiv Sena was a distant second. Congress and NCP were relegated to the bottom. BJP ousted Congress and NCP from their strongholds like Latur, Sangli, Solapur, Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad. Today, BJP has become the largest party in almost every district of Maharashtra.

So why do BJP and Shiv Sena need each other?

While many political pundits were speculating either way about the possibility of a BJP-Shiv Sena alliance, it had become a virtual certainly after Congress and NCP announced their own alliance. Both BJP and Shiv Sena knew that a three-cornered contest would hurt both the parties. Take a look at the maps of Lok Sabha and assembly elections –

Animation created using maps available on mapsofindia.com

As the map transitions from Lok Sabha to assembly election, barring the Shiv Sena strongholds of Mumbai, Konkan and pockets of Marathwada, the light-saffron shade of Shiv Sena wanes rapidly. At the same time, BJP’s dark-saffron remains almost consistent. Even the Mumbai stronghold of Shiv Sena is not safe. BJP came close to toppling Shiv Sena in the BMC election of 2017. This means that Shiv Sena needs BJP more than BJP needs Shiv Sena. This was also evidenced by the local grapevine that Sena MPs were pressurizing Uddhav Thackeray to tie-up with BJP.

Impact of Maratha reservation

Around 33% of the population, Marathas wield considerable influence in state politics. The demand for Marathas to be included in OBC has been a political hot potato for a long time. OBCs, another strong political force, were fiercely opposed to diluting their quota. Fadnavis government played a political masterstroke by announcing 16% reservation to Marathas under special category without disturbing the existing OBC reservation. This move is likely to swing a considerable share of Maratha votes from Congress-NCP towards BJP-Shiv Sena. At the same time, OBCs will be happy that their quota is not being diluted.

Dhangar demand for ST status

Currently, the Dhangar community gets reservation under the Vimukta Jati and Nomadic Tribes (VJNT) quota. They have a long-standing demand of being classified under Scheduled Tribes (ST). Dhangars form around 9% of the total population and have a significant influence on 4 Lok Sabha and 30-35 assembly seats. The four Lok Sabha seats are Baramati, Madha, Satara and Solapur. A prominent Dhangar leader Mahadev Jankar is an ally of BJP and is a minister in the state government. With BJP’s backing in 2014 Lok Sabha election, he managed to win 42% votes in the NCP bastion Baramati. NCP’s Supriya Sule suffered a 17.6% negative vote swing. This time around, Amit Shah and Devendra Fadnavis are determined to snatch Baramati from NCP. Meanwhile, Jankar has said that he’s ready to exchange Baramati for the neighbouring Madha (another NCP bastion from where Sharad Pawar is likely to contest). If Fadnavis manages to satisfy the Dhangar community’s demand, both Baramati and Madha could be up for grab. Satara MP Udayanraje Bhosale is currently in NCP but faces strong opposition within the party. Udayanraje had recently praised the BJP-Shiv Sena government and had hinted that he “has all options open”.

The Ambedkar-Owaisi factor

Another factor which cannot be ignored is the alliance between Prakash Ambedkar led Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh and Asauddin Owaisi’s AIMIM. While Ambedkar has very limited electoral appeal, AIMIM made its presence felt in 2014 assembly election by contesting 24 seats and winning 2. The party managed to get around 13% votes on the seats which it contested. The tie-up with Ambedkar will strengthen Owaisi’s Muslim-Dalit positioning. Meanwhile, Congress-NCP too is trying to woo Ambedkar, but his chances of joining them appear slim. If Ambedkar and Owaisi contest together on all 48 seats, they might end up taking away 4-5% votes from Congress-NCP.

In summary, the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance puts NDA in the pole position in Maharashtra. If they select the right candidates and manage to contain rebellion, NDA can repeat the 2014 performance in Maharashtra.

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