After today Maharashtra BJP informed the governor that it is unable to form a government as it does not have the numbers, the possibilities of a Shiv Sena – NCP – Congress government in the state has become a real possibility. Many people think it will be suicidal for Shiv Sena to ally with Congress and NCP, and assert that Uddhav Thackeray will not do that. They are saying that it is primarily a Hindu Nationalist party, and it will not ditch that ideology. But that is not correct, and Shiv Sena has few other facets it can fall back on, as a Twitter user with the display name Kaal Chiron pointed out a couple of days ago.
Other than the Hindu Nationalist position, Shiv Sena also has the character of a regionalist party. Before MNS walked away with the Marathi-Manoos agenda, it was known for its anti-immigrant campaign. In fact, the party was formed in 1966 by Baklasaheb Thackeray on an anti-outsider sentiment.
Therefore, Shiv Sena can easily switch to that mode, and an alliance with NCP, which is also currently a Maharashtra focused party, will not harm. As the regionalist stand is a secular stand, it is based on domicile and not on religion, it will also not be a mismatch with the secular stand of NCP and Congress. On the regionalist stand, they can also ally with MNS.
Shiv Sena also has a progressive liberal past. Prabodhankar Thackeray, the father of Bal Thackeray, was a social reformer. He had campaigned against superstitions and social evils in India such as Untouchability, Child marriage and Dowry, and had fought against caste hierarchy. He was one the key leaders who had campaigned for a separate linguistic state for Marathis carved out of then Bombay state.
Most importantly, Shiv Sena had a close relationship with Congress from the very beginning of the party. In its formative years, the party was nurtured by the Congress party, which was actually given the nickname “Vasanta Sena”, after two Congress CMs, Vasantrao Naik and Vasantdada Patil, who played important roles in the formation of Sena. In the inaugural rally of Shiv Sena in 1966, Congress leader Ramrao Adik was present on the dais.
Moreover, Sena founder Bal Thackeray had actually supported the emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi. And in 1980, the party didn’t contest the Lok Sabha elections but had supported the Congress party. At that time Bal Thackeray was close with Congress CM AR Antulay. Sena also had a short-lived alliance with Muslim League.
In 2007 presidential election, Sena had supported Congress candidate Pratibha Patil, and in 2013 they had again supported Congress candidate Pranab Mukherjee, despite being part of NDA. And a year before the 2019 general elections, Shiv Sena had supported Rahul Gandhi’s bid for the post of Prime Minister.
Therefore, Sena can embrace Prabodhankar Thackeray’s ideology, go back to its roots, and align with Congress.
And of course, they can also continue with BJP, as they have the Hindu Nationalist identity also. They are in an alliance with BJP since 1995, and Bal Thackeray remains one of the most prominent Hindu Nationalist leaders of the country. After 1980, Shiv Sena-Congress partnership broke due to various reasons, and Thackeray donned the saffron after that. He maintained a strong Hindu Nationalist identity for the party till his death, often making very provocative comments against Muslims in particular.
Hence, the party is in a position to ally with anyone of the other three parties, and that could be justified by its respective ideological position. Unlike BJP, or even the Communists, Shiv Sena is actually not bound by any affiliation to an ideology. Its ideological position has been fluid, and they can move from one camp to another relatively easily.
In all these years with the alliance with BJP, their vote share has remained largely constant, they have not gone up much. And under the leadership of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, BJP is gaining everywhere. Perhaps realising that remaining with BJP will not help the party much, probably the party has taken a conscious decision to break the alliance.
As per the latest developments, it seems that Maharashtra will actually see a government of Shiv Sena, NCP, and Congress. Today Maharashtra governor asked Shiv Sena to explore the possibility of forming govt after BJP said it is unable to do so. Soon after that, Sharad Pawar called Uddhav Thackeray, and they are expected to meet on Monday to discuss the formation of the government. NCP has given the condition that Shiv Sena will have to leave the NDA govt at centre if they want NCP support, which Shiv Sena should agree with if they get the CM post in Maharashtra. The newly-elected Congress MLAs also have expressed their support for a Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government.