After facing reverses in its stronghold of Mumbai, where the Bharatiya Janata Party is just two seats short of a tie – the Shiv Sena may be forced to go on the back foot and mellow its aggressive posture towards the BJP-led governments at the Centre and in Maharashtra.
The party, which famously put the Devendra Fadnavis government in the state, where it is a major coalition partner, “on notice” by threatening to withdraw its ministers, may continue in that role due to the risks involved in quitting the government and occupying the Opposition space at a time when its support base has shrunk.
The Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamana, which has the party’s President Uddhav Thackeray as its editor, has been relentless in its attacks on the BJP governments at both state and national levels.
Shiv Sena sources said that they were likely to continue in the state government although they could adopt a path of aggression again if the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections go against the BJP.
“Much depends on how the battle for the post of Mumbai’s Mayor plays out. The BJP will try to ensure that it gets its man to the position,” a senior Shiv Sena leader told DNA, adding that the Sena would also explore its options with the Congress and the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).
Speaking on condition of anonymity, he also conceded that the party had seen an erosion in its vote base with non-Maharashtrian voters coalescing around the BJP, leading to the defeat of veteran Shiv Sena leaders such as Shailesh Phanse and Manohar Panchal.
Thackeray, however, was non-committal when asked about the Shiv Sena’s “notice period” threat, saying XXXXXX .
The Shiv Sena has one minister (Anant Geete) in the Union Cabinet, and 12 in the state, which includes five Cabinet posts.
“The Shiv Sena will continue to needle us while being in the government,” a senior BJP minister told DNA. “Giving up power is not easy. In case we come to that point, the BJP can always wean away legislators from other parties and get them re-elected to ensure a stable dispensation,” he added, noting that quitting the cabinet months before the 2019 Lok Sabha and state Assembly polls could figure in Shiv Sena’s scheme of things.
“(But) Do they have a choice?” asked a senior BJP leader and Mumbai legislator, adding that a diminished Shiv Sena was short of options and would have to continue in the state government.
The Sena had earlier used a strategy of straddling two stools: staying in power even as it criticised the government to occupy the Opposition space. However, even BJP leaders admit that in case the Sena decides to leave the government, it would make for a formidable foe considering its character as an opposition party.