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Strange Bedfellows

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The gamble by the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, even if it pays off, is destined to be short-lived. By accusing the BJP, its pre-poll ally, of betrayal, it actually has hopes of obtaining more ‘loyal’ support from traditional rivals Congress and NCP! It expects the Hindutva and Maratha identity voters, who have stuck with the saffron parties through thick and thin, to swallow this betrayal of the mandate – given to the alliance through mutual transfer of votes. The Shiv Sena obviously believes its chosen Chief Minister – probably Uddhav Thackeray – will be so popular that he will sweep up the BJP votes in the next elections, which will inevitably take place in the near future. Thackeray will have to live with the twin barrels of the Congress and NCP guns pointed at his head every moment of his tenure, even if he manages to get the necessary support in the assembly. What good does he expect to do in terms of implementing the Sena’s programmes? Will he be able to live with the common minimum programme that might be forged with the newly acquired ‘friends’? And if a Shiv Sena government is expected to damage the BJP electorally, what will it do to the Congress and NCP? Is the hatred of the BJP so great in 10 Janpath that the dangers of allying with the Sena will be overlooked? Will Congress risk alienating its votebank, which has been traditionally and bitterly opposed to particularly the Shiv Sena? By leaving the alliance decision to the Congress, the NCP is seeking to benefit from erosions in that party’s support resulting from an unpopular decision. In comparison, the BJP’s stand has been much more principled, despite its traditional links with the Sena. It knows that surrendering to blackmail at the very start of its tenure would bode ill for the future. It is confident of its overall and long-term electoral prospects, particularly as it rides on a fresh wave of popularity post the Ram Temple decision. With strategists like PM Modi and HM Shah holding the high ground at the Centre, it can be expected that the Sena Government would face many destabilising moves. This is a classic example of hubris on the part of the Thackerays and their coterie within the party. Whatever emerges from the present stand-off, it is obvious that the BJP – with its man in the Governor’s chair – expects a period of President’s Rule somewhere down the line. The sooner the better for the people of Maharashtra!