The Bharatiya Janata Party is trying its best to woo Shiv Sena and ensure that the saffron alliance remains intact ahead of 2019 general elections. BJP national president Amit Shah is going to Matoshree on Wednesday to meet Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray in an effort to revive the alliance. The meeting comes at a time when relations between the two parties have been at a low and the bitter war of words that followed the parliamentary bypoll in Palghar. The Shiv Sena, which is part of the National Democratic Alliance at the centre, did not heed to BJP’s request to fight the bypoll together. Relations have been strained for a while between the two parties. Following the defeat in the Palghar bypoll, Thackeray had reiterated that the party would not forge an alliance with the BJP in the future. “Though the Sena has lost the Palghar bypoll, I refuse to accept defeat,” he told media after the results were declared. “The party would contest all future elections solo.”

After weeks of brinksmanship and tough negotiations, the Sena and BJP, partners for 25 years, finally broke their partnerships and fought the Assembly elections in 2014 separately. Luckily for them, Congress and NCP too parted ways after sharing the power in the State for 15 years. This election changed the electoral math for times to come as BJP won almost twice seats than Shiv Sena. However, it will be altogether a different ball game in 2019 as the BJP now needs mathematics and chemistry of BJP-Shiv Sena alliance to beat Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar who has once again joined hands with Congress. Almost fifty-three years after it was founded by late Bal Thackeray on 19 June 1966, the Shiv Sena is finding itself at the crossroads. Long used to dominating the saffron alliance in Maharashtra, the Sena is now finding it difficult to reconcile itself to playing second fiddle in running the State government. The decision to eat humble pie and join hands with the BJP after sitting on the opposition benches briefly has not gone down well with the rank and file. The Sena will also have to reconcile itself to a dichotomy — that of being in power but still taking on it. However, leaders and cadre alike rue that despite being in power, the Sena does not seem to be in authority.

The Shiv Sena’s announcement in the first week of January 2018 to end its alliance with the BJP for the Lok Sabha and Maharashtra Assembly and General elections next year has its genesis in the bitter tug-of-war between the two parties for the past over three years. Two factor seemingly acted as catalysts to precipitate the split in the alliance — the first being the BJP’s quest to maintain its big-brother status and the second to politically capitalise on the popularity wave of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. BJP leaders familiar with the intricate relations between the two parties believe Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray has nursed a grudge against the BJP’s central leadership, primarily because of the latter’s push to expand its footprints in Maharashtra. The current BJP leadership is different from those in the past like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani who stitched up an alliance with Sena founder Bal Thackeray accepting the Maharashtra-based party’s big brother status in assembly elections in return for more seats in the Lok Sabha polls.

The Sena and the BJP sparred over seat distribution ahead of the 2009 Lok sabha election too, but some timely intervention by the late BJP leader Gopinath Munde salvaged the alliance. The BJP was hurt with what party leaders believe was Sena’s ‘betrayal’ in 2007 and 2012 presidential elections, when it chose to back Congress candidates Pratibha Patil and Pranab Mukherjee over NDA nominees. The appointment of Nagpur politician Nitin Gadkari as the BJP president in January 2010 was another turning point in the BJP-Sena relationship. Gadkari was seen close to Uddhav’s estranged cousin and MNS chief Raj Thackeray, but he could not take on Sena beyond a point. The BJP still needed the Sena. But 2014 was different. Narendra Modi came on to the national political centre stage along with Amit Shah and immediately hit the roads to realize their ambitions of expanding the BJP beyond its traditional strongholds. The execution was left to Shah. Shah took over as BJP president in July 2014 ahead of the Maharashtra Assembly elections in October that year. A loud and clear message was sent to Sena that previous seat sharing – 171 for Sena and 117 for BJP – will not be accepted. The BJP wanted equal share with the biggest party getting the CM’s post, but Sena refused. They parted ways finally.

The BJP emerged single largest party with 122 seats but fell short of the majority. The two estranged parties came together to form the government and the BJP for the first time got the CM’s post in Maharashtra. The Sena’s demand for deputy CM’s post was turned down, leaving it to lick its wounds. In Delhi, the Sena did not get another cabinet portfolio that it asked for and pulled out its candidate, Anil Desai, at the last minute after being offered a minister of state rank. The Shiv Sena continued its jibes at Modi government over its Pakistan and economic policies, and the BJP would give a reply every time – unlike the past. The tension in their relationship came to the fore again in 2017 during the election to Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, India’s richest civic body. The two fought the polls separately with the Shiv Sena bagging 90 seats and the BJP finishing a close second with 83 seats in the 227 member corporation. The two parties then came together yet again to rule the BMC. In all these years, Sena kept asking for the deputy CM’s post in Maharashtra, some important portfolios in the Maharashtra government a cabinet rank ministry in Delhi. None of these demands has been met. With the BJP making some inroads in the Shiv Sena’s bastion in Maharashtra, Uddhav Thackeray was getting jittery about the future of his own party. He needed to flex his muscle.