All is not well in the Shiv Sena, the alliance partner of the BJP in Maharashtra, though the Sena denies it vehemently.
During the week, almost conflicting positions were taken by Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and party legislator Sanjay Raut, the executive editor of Sena mouthpiece Saamna.
All Sena leaders The Sunday Guardian spoke to denied that the Saamna’s position as the party’s mouthpiece was being undermined due to these developments. However, Sena’s elder ally BJP confirmed that Sena’s leadership was not able to rein in some factions within the party.
The week began with Shiv Sena training its guns on Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis over permission for holding the book launch programme of former Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri.
While Raut announced that the protest against Kasuri’s book launch was on, Thackeray signalled his men not to disrupt the programme. Later during the week, even as Raut launched an attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Fadnavis, Sena leaders played it down. Recently, commenting on a Saamna article asking BJP to exit power if it had problems with the Sena, the CM rubbished it. “Key decisions are taken by the party leadership and not dictated by newspaper articles,” Fadnavis said recently.
Many Sena leaders The Sunday Guardian spoke to refused to comment on the matter. “Where is the question of my opinion on happenings in the party? We are all Shiv Sainiks. What we feel has no importance. We behave as per the orders of our party leader,” said Diwakar Raote, who is also a part of the Maharashtra Cabinet.
Senior party leader Neelam Gorhe said any such analysis of rift within the party will be incorrect and superficial. “The expression of discontent is in different words. It is clear that the party was opposed to Kasuri’s book launch. Now I can’t comment on what happened exactly, and whether there was a communication gap. The party command decides how to put forth the party’s stand and which medium and which leaders to choose for that,” she said.
She also said it was wrong on the BJP’s part to discredit Raut as a mere writer. But sources outside the party said they knew of the trouble brewing within the party. “The Sainiks know the problem, but they will not talk about it. The party command is unable to rein in factions within the party,” claimed a senior politician, refusing to be named.
According to him, Sanjay Raut, who is Shiv Sena’s MP in Rajya Sabha, faces the end of his tenure in February next year. Sources within Sena said that Raut did not share a very close rapport with the party’s leadership, and he is not hopeful of getting another tenure in Parliament. “It seems that is the reason why he wants to create trouble for Sena. He wants to portray himself as a Hindutvavadi Shiv Sainik, who was denied opportunity for his strong Hindutva position,” a senior BJP leader said. Moreover, a faction within Shiv Sena wants to enjoy power in the current government, while the other is pinning for opting out of it. Ultimately, this week, the BJP conveyed to the Sena that they were willing to face mid-term polls if Sena wished to withdraw its support to the government. “Let it come out in the open. Let people know that it is because of Sena that they are facing mid-term polls,” a party leader said. After that, the Sena has, at least now, put up a united face with the BJP. Fadnavis recently announced before the media that everything was well between them and that the two would, in fact, fight the MCGM polls together.