Tuesday, Sep 27, 2022

Uddhav Thackeray vs Devendra Fadnavis: A Friendship Gone Sour Cost A CM His Chair

It was not the Shiv Sena versus the Shiv Sena but Uddhav Thackeray versus Devendra Fadnavis. It was a potboiler at whose bottom lay the remnants of a friendship gone wrong between two saffron parties whose friendship spanned 25 years.

Uddhav Thackeray and Devendra Fadnavis
Uddhav Thackeray and Devendra Fadnavis Getty Images

Few perhaps realise that in the resignation of Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray last night rests his soured friendship with the BJP stalwart Devendra Fadnavis. The duo who had shared an uneasy friendship despite being partners in the government from 2014-2019, are now pitted against each other in the present political crisis in Maharashtra.

The BJP, particularly Fadnavis, has not forgiven the Shiv Sena for forming the government with ideological opposites, the Congress and the NCP, in 2019. According to sources, since then Fadnavis has been focused on bringing down the MVA Government. “The issue is with Uddhav Thackeray, not the NCP or the Congress Party,” says a BJP leader.

“The Shiv Sena campaigned in the 2019 Assembly polls in an alliance with the BJP and then they ditched us. They truly do not deserve to be in the government,” said Uday Sonowne, a BJP worker from Osmanabad. He has travelled to Mumbai with his friends to see the swearing-in ceremony of Fadnavis. “The breaking up of the Shiv Sena is sweet revenge for us,”  Sonowne told Outlook. 

Shiv Sainiks across the state who spoke to Outlook blamed Fadnavis for Thackeray’s predicament. Referring to the soured friendship between Thackeray and Fadnavis, a senior minister from the Congress Party told Outlook that they had been expecting such a flare up since the day the MVA Government was formed.

“We were certain that the BJP will try to engineer defections from the Shiv Sena, but this scale of rebellion led by a man who has been with the chief minister until the evening of the elections of the Council (Maharashtra Legislative Council) was unexpected,” said a leader.

“The Congress was prepared for the eventuality of the MVA government being brought down by Fadnavis later some time, but the timing has caught us unawares,” said a senior minister of the Congress party.

Pitted against the chief ministerial ambition of Fadnavis and facing BJP's manoeuvres to decimate the Shiv Sena, there was little Thackeray could do to save his government. Thackeray was faced with the toughest challenge of his life – to save the Shiv Sena from being dismantled by the BJP, which received a lot of help from Shinde and his rebel brigade.

Even when they were part of an alliance, the one-upmanship between the Shiv Sena and the BJP was a common feature. While they were partners in the NDA Government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, senior BJP leader Pramod Mahajan was tasked with the job of coordinating between Balasaheb Thackeray and Vajpayee.

“The Shiv Sena would not relent on several issues and this often led to problems with the Centre. Pramod Mahajan would visit Matoshree and iron out the differences with Balasaheb. The problems between the two parties started getting unmanageable after the death of Pramod ji. The relationship between the parties started souring,” said a senior BJP leader to Outlook.

Despite a 25-year-old alliance between the two saffron parties in Maharashtra, there was more discomfort than ease between the two. The Shiv Sena which called itself the “big brother” in the alliance started getting scaled down after Narendra Modi took over as the Prime Minister.

Subsequently, the BJP emerged as the single largest party in the Assembly polls and Fadnavis took over as the chief minister. Losing the chief minister’s chair was a huge blow to the Shiv Sena as it had always had the upper hand in the alliance. “Neither Modi ji nor Amit ji (Shah) pandered to the Shiv Sena, despite being in an alliance at the Centre and in Maharashtra,” said a BJP leader.

“The Shiv Sena was given inconsequential ministries in the Modi government. Often Uddhav Thackeray was not even invited for the functions attended by Modi ji in Mumbai. This was a message to us, the party workers, that the Shiv Sena had lost its importance and utility value for the BJP,” said a senior BJP leader to Outlook.  

It is after Uddhav Thackeray started criticizing the policies of the Modi Government, the already soured friendship nosedived.

After the Sena has lost power, what lies ahead?

“Fadnavis was tasked to set in motion the dismantling of the Shiv Sena. Shinde made it easier for the BJP. But Uddhav’s defeat will not be forgotten easily by the Sainiks. We are likely to see street fights between the Sainiks and BJP cadres,” a political analyst told Outlook.