As events of the last few days after the Maharashtra results have shown, this is a state that continues to defy the norms set for it by the centre and it will challenge authority when it comes to safeguarding its own people’s interest. To understand the context and the pride it takes in its own identity and place at the power table, it’s important to recall how the ascendance and assertion by Chhatrapati Shivaji led to the weakening dominance of the rulers of Delhi.
After 2014, the rise of the BJP under the Modi-Shah duo has been phenomenal; the party cemented its dominance further in the 2019 election. The rise of the BJP at the centre came at the expense of India’s opposition as well as its own allies, leading it to a point where political parties, but not the country’s people, appeared to have almost resigned themselves to their fate of inevitable defeat. However the pushback from the people against single-party dominance was witnessed in the state elections that followed soon after the general elections of 2019 that gave the BJP a brute majority at the centre. What was predicted to be a clean sweep for BJP in Haryana and Maharashtra turned out quite differently. What was significant in Maharashtra was that the challenger to the BJP’s path to power was, in fact, its longest-standing ally, the Shiv Sena.
The BJP and Shiv Sena shared a three-decade-long partnership, an alliance that stood the test of time, the highs and the lows, whether in power or out of it, from the heady days of seeing the BJP make inroads in the state under the leadership of LK Advani, amply supported by Balasaheb Thackeray’s Shiv Sena, to seeing it rise nationally under the new leadership of Amit Shah and Uddhav Thackeray in the state. However, the change in leadership also brought in changes in the equation that led to the Shiv Sena charting its own journey in 2014, only to return to the NDA after the election. The distribution of power in the state however was not equitable and also led to cracks in the alliance; but, as coalition dharma mandates, the Shiv Sena, keeping the state of Maharashtra above its own interests, took this in their stride.
A regional party that witnessed a rise in vote share in the general elections and state, justifying its regional aspirations and need to expand and grow beyond the alliance, was being thwarted at every step. For the Shiv Sena, it was time to reclaim and reassert its own space. It was apparent that the alliance for all intents and purposes was just a tool for the national party, BJP, to cannibalise the regional party, and all that it stood for, to dominate the state. Despite the unease, the pre-poll alliance was stitched up before the general election by both parties on the back of the assurance made by BJP President Amit Shah to Uddhav Thackeray that there would be equal sharing of power (including the top post) and seats in the assembly. The Shiv Sena agreed to the request of the state unit of the BJP to give up some some seats; then, the election results were not as per the expectations of the BJP or the Shiv Sena; what however was the last nail in the alliance’s coffin was when Devendra Fadnavis, without consulting the Shiv Sena, declared himself the Chief Minister and backtracked on all commitments made to the Sena when formalizing the alliance. It became pretty clear that the BJP wanted the Sena to share power, but was not willing to accept its share of coalition dharma and responsibility. It also became clear that this time, the Shiv Sena would tolerate none of the insults heaped on it.