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The enemy within (Hindu)

Not ideological affinity, but prospects of power and pelf determine the making and unmaking of political alliances. The Shiv Sena is the closest to the Bharatiya Janata Party in terms of ideology and policies, but a parting of ways of the two parties was always just around the corner. Differences over seat-sharing for the polls to the urban local bodies in Maharashtra were inevitable as each party was seeking to expand its influence at the expense of the other. Quite understandably, the Sena is yet to reconcile itself to its situation as a junior partner of the BJP after the 2014 Assembly election, when it won fewer seats than the BJP did after contesting alone following a similar breakdown in seat-sharing negotiations. Having headed the government in 1995, the first time the alliance tasted power in the State, the Sena greatly resents the role of a minor partner of the BJP in the government. If the party does not win back its support base, ceded mostly to the BJP, it will not be able to reverse the power equation within the alliance. The results of the local body elections are significant in determining this equation. They will in all probability lay the basis for seat negotiations for battles with higher stakes: the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in 2019.

But embarrassingly for the two parties, the campaign is at a pitch that cannot be brought down. Both have indulged in name-calling and traded corruption charges, even while remaining partners in government. It is therefore difficult to imagine there will be no long-term consequences for the alliance in the run-up to the 2019 general election. The Sena, which played down the strident Marathi chauvinism of its early years in favour of Hindutva nationalism, knows its support base is vulnerable to poaching by the BJP. In alliance or out of it, the Sena is always under the threat of being subsumed within the BJP’s own political stream. Its efforts to expand beyond the cities and major towns of the State had put the Sena more in direct competition with the BJP than in conflict with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party. Unsurprisingly, the Sena campaign for the civic bodies has grown to include attacks on not only the failings of the Devendra Fadnavis government but also the record of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre and its flip-flops on demonetisation. However, the real test for the Sena and the BJP will emerge after the dust settles, when they will have to resume work as partners in government following weeks of this hostile campaign. And also possibly, deal with a changed power equation within the alliance.

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