By Quaid Najmi
As the second alliance government of the BJP-Shiv Sena combine, formed in Maharashtra after a brief period of bickering between the partners of 25 years, completes 75 days in power, it is clear that the Shiv Sena has sharpened its attack on the BJP.
The short journey since Dec 5 has already proven to be too long, and in large measure, quite irritable for senior partner BJP, thanks to the unending supply of Shiv Sena’s poisoned darts mercilessly fired through its party mouthpiece – Saamana and Dopahar Ka Saamana – in Marathi and Hindi respectively.
Since the days of the founder-patriarch of the Shiv Sena, the late Bal Thackeray, all political parties dreaded his barbs – both verbal and through the edit columns of the two dailies.
The trend continues unabated, but seems to hurt its coalition partner Bharatiya Janata Party now more than ever before almost as if Saamana has donned the role of ‘the main opposition’ in Maharashtra.
In recent times, Shiv Sena, through Saamana, has been at the forefront of criticizing senior BJP leaders, from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, certain cabinet ministers, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and select team members, as well as the BJP brand of politics.
The party did not shy away from commenting on Modi’s controversial monogrammed suit which is now up for auction, the centre’s economic policies, taking foreign VVIPs to Gujarat in a bid to overshadow Maharashtra or even the BJP’s planned adventure in the ongoing Bihar political crisis.
The latest dart virtually compelled Union Minister of State for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi to clarify in Mumbai recently that the BJP was “keeping off” the affairs in Bihar and would wait for the elections to secure the peoples’ mandate.
The story is the same in Maharashtra where it bitterly criticized plans to carve out a separate Vidarbha state – the BJP’s declared agenda in pursuance of its small states policy, an alleged move to sever Mumbai and reducing its economic importance and the latest on crime situation following the brutal attack on senior Communist leader Govind Pansare in Kolhapur this week.
The last one also hit the bull’s eye as Fadnavis happens to wield the critical home portfolio.
A state BJP leader, requesting anonymity, conceded that the Shiv Sena barbs through its mouthpieces “hurt badly”, but there was little it could do, as other larger issues like freedom of expression and media were involved.
“Everybody has a right to air grievances, but in appropriate forums. At various levels, we have requested the Shiv Sena leadership to take us into confidence before going public with its grievances,” the BJP leader said.
In recent weeks, however, some BJP leaders have also hit back at the Shiv Sena in their individual capacity, much to the latter’s consternation and the glee of the left-over opposition parties.
For instance, after the Sena’s bitter criticism of Modi recently over the debacle in the Delhi elections, a couple of senior BJP leaders disgustedly asked its partner to “first quit government before criticizing” the prime minister.
The Shiv Sena’s proposal to revive Mumbai’s legendary night-life and its 24×7 entertainment, put forth by youth leader Aditya Thackeray, attracted BJP opposition with advice to include even vada-paav and paav-bhaji vendors in the proposition.
BJP state spokesperson Madhav Bhandari termed ‘Saamana’ as “behaving like a self-appointed Leader of Opposition”, and said its displeasure has been expressed to the Shiv Sena in private and public.
“We are clear this (alliance) is an ‘adjustment’ only to run the government, nothing else… In the past 15 years or so, views were aired through its in-house media, it continues even now… It appears to be a planned strategy on their part,” Bhandari told IANS.
Ostensibly attempting to provide an alternative platform to Shiv Sena to air its views and grievances, the BJP has set up a ‘Co-ordination Committee’ between the two parties – something that existed during the previous Congress-Nationalist Congress Party regimes.
But the BJP’s honourable intention has not escaped the stick even on this count as ally Republican Party of India chief Ramdas Athawale vociferously demanded that all the other smaller parties in the ‘Grand Alliance’ must be included in the Co-ordination Committee.
“The BJP must not take its allies for granted in this manner… They must remember Delhi example… The masses have other options available now… The smaller allies should not be dismisses casually,” RPI spokesperson Mayur Borkar commented on the frustrations experienced by the party.
Now, watch out for the next edition of the Saamana and Dopahar Ka Saamana.