The complex BJP-Shiv Sena ties, marked by frequent bad-tempered exchanges and mistrust, took a fresh turn as Amit Shah and Uddhav Thackeray sat down for an hour-long chat at the latter’s Bandra residence, Matoshree, on Wednesday night.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Uddhav’s son and Yuva Sena chief, Aditya Thackeray, were part of the deliberations, but the BJP and Sena presidents reportedly also spoke alone for quite some time. The meeting was quickly viewed as an indicator of a possible truce between the two parties ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. But signals from the Sena suggest the bickering is unlikely to end overnight.
“There’s no change in our position. We have already said we will fight the 2019 elections without a political understanding with the BJP. If we change our mind, we will let the BJP know,” a Sena leader said. “The BJP’s outreach is a case of too little, too late.”
The traditional allies have been lighting into each other ever since the BJP emerged as the single largest party in the 2014 assembly elections. They contested those polls and the recent Palghar byelection separately. Though the Sena is a junior partner in the Fadnavis government, it has repeatedly slated the BJP, particularly Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
After the failure to form the government in Karnataka and a string of bypoll setbacks, Shah has undertaken a ‘Sampark for Samarthan (Contact for Support)’ tour to mend relations with upset NDA partners and establish new ones. Though his visit to Mumbai had been announced earlier, there was no clarity till late evening about his one-on-one with Uddhav. The meeting was not listed on Shah’s itinerary, which included discussions with some prominent figures of film and industry.
On Wednesday, the Sena, through its mouthpiece Saamana, even questioned the BJP’s overtures, prompting political observers to speculate that Shah and Uddhav may not meet after all.
Around 8:15 pm, Shah reached Matoshree and the two leaders soon got down to business. Sources in the Sena said Shah and Uddhav had a lengthy conversation without their aides. “This is how Uddhav conducts discussions. Besides, it made sense for the presidents of two parties to hold direct talks,” a senior Sena member said. But those close to Fadnavis said the chief minister was part of Wednesday’s deliberations from the start to finish.
A BJP leader said the RSS had played a key role in getting the two estranged allies under one roof. (Shah even enjoyed a home-made Maharashtrian meal at Matoshree.) Sections in both parties are happy with Wednesday’s development, but the Sena is unlikely to change its stance anytime soon. Lately, it has been engaged in a war of words with Fadnavis.
Insiders say the CM was rebuffed because a week ago he had said that the BJP does not give importance to Sanjay Raut, the Shiv Sena MP and editor of Saamana. “The media gives him importance. The whole country knows who has an ego,” Fadnavis had said. Earlier, Raut had called him “arrogant”, and said, “Even a dog starts considering himself a tiger after coming to power.”
The BJP has tried to keep its cool. In fact, in an interview to a Marathi news channel yesterday night, Shah said, “There are always differences between alliance partners, but we will make all efforts to bridge these differences and Sena will not only be part of NDA in 2019 but also in 2024 and all the elections thereafter.”
Raut, however, has persisted with slamming the BJP in his opinion pieces in Saamana. In one of the sharpest attacks after the recently held Lok Sabha bypolls in Palghar, Raut described the BJP as Sena’s biggest “political enemy”. “The BJP is the biggest political enemy (rajkiya shatroo) of Shiv Sena. Its radical Hinduism would prove problematic for us,” he said.
In another swipe, Raut said the BJP paid tribute to its late MP Chintaman Vanga by defeating his son, a Sena candidate, in Palghar. The bypoll was necessitated by the death of Chintaman Vanga. As the Sena is the main opponent of the BJP, the latter’s plan is to weaken the Uddhav Thackeray-led party while staying in power with it, he alleged. “Hence the BJP’s plan is to stay with the Sena in power and try to weaken it by using power and money. The BJP used its resources to ensure Shiv Sena’s defeat in the Palghar,” Raut said.
Ridiculing BJP’s campaign ‘Sampark for Samarthan’ by saying ‘let’s play Sampark-Sampark’, Raut’s article on Wednesday questioned, “The prime minister is touring the world and BJP chief Amit Shah is going around the country as part of their sampark programme. Shah will be meeting NDA allies. However, what exactly will he do? Why is he meeting at this juncture when the BJP has suffered defeats in bypolls?” The focus on the 2019 polls may be the reason for Shah’s outreach, but the BJP has lost connect with the people, it said. “Winds of change of governance are blowing in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Change of governance is inevitable in Maharashtra as well. Amit Shah intends to win 350 seats in the Lok Sabha on the BJP’s own strength. He says Ram Mandir will be built then. His stubbornness needs to be saluted,” Raut said in the article.
The article said that during the Palghar bypoll posters of Modi and Shah went missing and the party used the posters of Chintaman Vanga despite protests from his family. “After their win, Modi and Shah were back on the posters. This shows that commercial arithmetic decides who and when you keep contact with and when to break (contact),” it said.
BJP President Amit Shah’s scheduled meeting with legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar as part of the party’s “contact for support” campaign was cancelled after she took ill owing to food poisoning. Mangeshkar tweeted in Hindi that she had spoken to Shah over telephone and expressed her inability to meet him. She also requested that they meet during his next visit to Mumbai.
“Aaj BJP ki adhyaksha mananeey @AmitShah ji se meri mulaqaat honewali thi parantu mujhe food poisoning hone ki wajah se maine unse telephone pe baat karke milne mein asamarthta vyakt ki aur agli baar jab bhi wo Mumbai aayenge tab unse milne ka nivedan kiya(sic),” the 88-yearold Bharat Ratna awardee tweeted.
As part of the mega public drive, 4,000 BJP functionaries will contact one lakh people, who are well-known in their respective fields, to spread the word about the NDA government’s programme and policies launched since 2014. Shah will meet 50 people as part of the campaign, the party had said.