The NCP has turned down Shiv Sena leader Manohar Joshi's recent invitation to its chief Sharad Pawar to join NDA, saying the party is not a power monger. Joshi had even said that Pawar would be able to end all quarrels within the alliance and even could become the Prime Minister of the country.
Undoubtedly, a political bait which the NCP refused to bite. The NCP, which is in power with the Congress in Maharashtra, said the party would never join an alliance led by communal forces.
Sena's move to create a rift in ruling alliance did not deliver
The Sena's decision to entice Pawar, a leader who is at the fag end of his political career, aimed at two goals. One, to create a rift in the ruling coalition in the state particularly after the Congress refused to meet the Sena's demand to set up a memorial of Bal Thackeray in Shivaji Park in Mumbai, where the patriarch was cremated after he passed away last month. The Sena, however, compromised on its take later.
Two, to assert before the BJP, its alliance partner, that it was not ready to play second-fiddle to the latter, which is a national party. The electoral alliance between the Sena and BJP, which was in the mid-1980s owing the two parties' common ideological thrust, has turned fragile in the recent times. The Sena was found supporting UPA's presidential candidate Pranab Mukherjee during this year's polls despite being an NDA ally and also backed people other than Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate for the next general polls.
Instead, the NDA has its own problems
The BJP also refused to support Sena's recent decision to move a no-confidence against the Congress-NCP government. The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) of Raj Thackeray, the estranged nephew of Bal Thackeray, also questioned the timing of the motion.
The Sena said the move was to expose the Congress-ruled government on issues like irrigation scam, corruption in toll collection and various tribal development schemes, the administration's failure to tackle drought conditions and the worsening law and order situation in the state.
However, the action coincided more with the Congress's objection to the makeshift Thackeray memorial. But owing to lack of unity in the Opposition, the Sena failed to make any inroads and instead, the government, understanding the vulnerability of the Opposition, said it was ready to face no-confidence motion in and out of the legislature.
Is Sena challenged from within today?
The story does not end with the fragmented Opposition, either. The Shiv Sena itself is short of solidarity with many young members complaining about not getting enough opportunity to establish their views in the House are not clearly happy with group leader Subhash Desai, who has the backing of party chief Uddhav Thackeray.
The decision to move a no-confidence by the Sena was perhaps an ambitious project of establishing itself as a self-sufficient force capable of rocking the government.
Sena and BJP have moved away
The Sena and the BJP had problems among themselves even when they were in power in Maharashtra in the late 1990s. The two parties had a problem over the Shivshahi Punarvasan Prakalp and the BJP complained that Bal Thackeray and the then CM, Murli Manohar Joshi, did not care to consult the BJP while taking any decision. In the following years, the erosion in the electoral fortunes of the Sena-BJP alliance at various levels have widened the rift. The Sena believes it is the big brother in Maharashtra while the BJP is a national party with a much larger base. No wonder the adjustment is hard to come by.
Desperate to remain politically relevant
It seems the Shiv Sena is trying its best to remain politically relevant and hence is focusing on a game of one-upmanship vis-a-vis other Opposition members, including the BJP. Some quarters have said that if the Sena really wanted to put up a united no-confidence against the government, it would have taken the BJP, the leader of the Opposition into confidence first, but preferred to project the entire episode in a way that would earn only emotive support. The BJP said that the 'no-confidence motion episode' actually helped both the Congress and the Sena in generating sympathy.
The Sena lacks a clear political agenda and mechanism and in the post-Bal Thackeray era, the party desperately needs a direction to evolve to ensure its survival. But the paradox for the Sena is that given the brand of politics it has preached since its inception, a sudden shift to a moderate position may grant an advantage to the rival, MNS.
But at the same time, there is little chance of the party spreading its wings further if it sticks to the hard political ways. The Facebook fiasco in Maharashtra following Thackeray's death showed that politics of muscle-flexing will not work now as it used to in the past. Will Uddhav give a more moderate leadership to Sena or will the aggressive elements continue to call the shots?
BJP has learnt the lesson, will the Sena?
Today's BJP has understood how difficult it is to win friends with the 'communal' tag on. Even in the recent vote on foreign direct investment in the Parliament, it was heard time and again from various regional parties that communal forces are second preference and despite the Congress government getting tainted to the core in various corruption issues, the BJP with its baggage of history, is terribly falling short of successfully challenging the Congress. Hence, it is more to its disadvantage if it supports the political style of Shiv Sena, which is not only regional but is also facing a crisis of evolution.
Even to project Narendra Modi as a national leader, it is important that the saffron party establishes its moderate credentials to kill the ghosts of 2002. Shiv Sena is not going to help it in this venture. The party's decision to distance itself from the Sena's demand to rename Shivaji Park was also a part of its strategy to give up exclusive politics.
The BJP has learnt the lesson the hard way, can the Sena?