Has the Shiv Sena shot itself in the foot?

With Union Heavy Industries Minister Arvind Sawant's resignation the three-decade-old Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata party  alliance in Maharashtra comes to an end.

The ideological glue of Hindutva was eventually trumped by dynastic considerations. It is no mere coincidence that all three parties, the NCP, Congress and Shiv Sena are led by dynasties.

For a dynasty to hold on to the reigns of a party teeming with aspirational cadre the fruits of power cannot be withheld but delivered at regular intervals. Hence even though media reports stating that Uddhav Thackeray is awaiting a green signal from the High Command in New Delhi may ring absurd the necessities of familial obligation make this a plausible situation.

Since Modi’s advent on the national scene and his relentless attack on parivarvaad, political parties controlled by dynasties have faced a turn in fortune, be it the RJD in Bihar, SP in UP or the diminishing stature of the Shiv Sena in the alliance with the BJP. 

Each party has suffered decisive rejections: Dimple Yadav, wife of SP scion Akhilesh Yadav, was unable to win a  term in Parliament, neither was Laloo’s daughter and Aditya Thackeray the third generation Thackeray in politics steered away from family tradition and contested from the Worli seat, a safe seat for the Shiv Sainiks but nonetheless a decision prompted by the need to enforce mass appeal. 

Neither of these parties have a system that nurtures and promotes talent independent of favour of the first family. The top posts in the parties are reserved for members with the right last names, as are the top jobs in government unless the family declines them then the chosen appointees benefit from service to the family.

In this system it becomes essential for the three parties, ideologically apart as they might be, to come to a common consensus, not so much to serve the public but reinforce control over their parties. Shiv Sena and NCP are both regional parties with little national imprint and power in Maharashtra would be a straight-forward necessity: whether in alliance with the BJP or outside, both are threatened by the BJP in the state.

For the Congress the negotiation becomes far more complicated, as a national party it has claimed a hard stand against the Hindutva practiced by the Shiv Sena, so for it to join hands with an ideology it has demonised is a compromise that can have far-reaching effect that extends beyond Maharashtra.

However, a weakened Congress that was unable to put up a fight in Maharashtra and was besieged by internal power tussles by local leaders and defections, declining a share in power may trigger an exodus or rebellion in the Maharashtra unit. 

Congress MLAs who have fought the Maharashtra elections without much support from the central leadership delivered a humble 44 seats but can stake claim on their victories with a moral authority that is not beholden to the largess of the High Command, their voice is demanding a share in power. 

Again the crisis is existential for the dynasty, if ideology is the casualty then so be it.

At this time it is unclear which way the Congress will go, Maharashtra Congress  leaders have reached Delhi for further discussions and all will be revealed in a few hours time. The BJP, meanwhile, has set these events in motion by refusing to cede space to its erstwhile partners, but for cryptic ‘wait and watch’ – it would be difficult to say what the party has in mind. But to assume it has no plan is to not read the situation correctly.

Interesting events led up to this situation included a meeting between Nitin Gadkari and Ahmed Patel ostensibly to discuss infrastructure and farmer issues. The Governor has granted the Shiv Sena till 7:30 pm today to come up with the numbers. 

The pace of the discussions especially at the Congress’s end will put pressure on this deadline. And the Grand Old Party seems in no hurry unlike in the case of Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. The options are still open – possible President’s rule and a new election, is the one option, that cannot be ruled out. 

Another is, of course, this dynastic alliance, which will lead to interesting times since it will remain beholden to the good favour of Sonia Gandhi. A temperamental Shiv Sena got away with its tantrums with Devendra Fadnavis, but will it be granted the same leeway by Mrs Gandhi?  

The extended Indian joint family can be complicated as we all know and alliances marital or political can be devastating.  We are all tuned in.