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The BJP should drop its alliance with Shiv Sena

March 12, 2009 20:20 IST

If Pramod Mahajan were to be alive today, the Bharatiya Janata Party would have shed the long-time ally Shiv Sena and gone it alone in Maharashtra.

If the assembly elections were to have been held simultaneously with the one to the Lok Sabha, then that almost certainly would have been the case.

How do I know?

Because, about a year before he was shot by his brother Praveen, BJP's Maharashtra point man told me so.

The thought process had started soon after the 2004 elections and the BJP was on the back foot and smarting under the imperious ways of the Shiv Sena, especially its chief Bal Thackeray.

The party cadre were also restless, uncomfortable in the unequal partnership where the whip hand was the Sena. The BJP which has the "BJP-100 per cent" slogan for the party thought it would be difficult if it was constantly and consistently riding piggyback on the Shiv Sena.

Mahajan's argument was simple. If the BJP were to snap ties, engage in three-cornered contests with Sena on one hand and the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance on the other, the toss up could be happy.

BJP could win about the same or more than it always did. Likewise, the Sena, even if it was at each other's cost. The bottomline would be the same and a post-poll alliance of convenience was a distinct possible because Congress or NCP were unlikely ever to hobnob with the Sena.

That would end the subservience of the BJP.

It was clear that he was not building scenarios but was unravelling a plan of action he was set upon.

When the two parties contest against each other, the cadres of the party get active, their ambitions get stoked and the party grows. In this country, Mahajan told me at that lunch at the Hotel Intercontinental on Marine Drive in Mumbai, political parties grow using the elections as the medium.

The focus is political clout that can be gained.

This element in the political arena came out sharply to me when I was allowed by Raj Thackeray just before the 1999 elections to the Maharashtra assembly elections to accompany him on his visits to several shakhas in Mumbai where he interacted with his cadre.

They all complained that in constituencies where the BJP had won as part of the alliance, they found it extremely difficult to get anything done for the sainiks. The candidates who won a seat always preferred their cadres for largesse distribution. They agreed that BJP was at the receiving end of this partisanship in constituencies where the Sena had won.

So, Mahajan explained, elections is not just winning seats, but keeping the cadres happy and strengthening a party.

So why not, he argued and said that from that moment on, the BJP would decidedly strive in that direction.

That was perfect logic which also needed a gambler who could assess the odds properly. Ask another political strongman, Sharad Pawar and he would surely concede that he and Mahajan had that ability in ample measure. They respected each other for that ability.

But his death changed that gameplan.

Though his colleagues like Gopinath Munde and Nitin Gadkari knew and seemingly agreed with this plan of action, they apparently did not have the courage or conviction to carry forward that gameplan.

Now, it is there for everyone to see that the relationship between the BJP and the Sena is not warm. They have not even managed to hold a round of discussions on seat sharing specifics. That party is keen on indicating that it has a preference for a possible relationship with the NCP.

BJP is reduced to a state which Mahajan wanted to avoid. It is protesting its loyalty to the Sena as an ally. And the Sena is smirking.

Is Mahajan frowning?

Mahesh Vijapurkar is former Deputy Editor, The Hindu

Mahesh Vijapurkar