For the Shiv Sena, the Eknath Shinde-led rebellion is not just a battle to save the Maha Vikas Aghadi government but also a desperate attempt to save the party from the BJP’s growing influence in Maharashtra.
The BJP has already surged way ahead of the Shiv Sena in the last two assembly elections – both in terms of the number of seats and also vote share.
From 1990 to 2004, the Shiv Sena was ahead of the BJP in the assembly elections. However, the trend reversed in 2009, when for the first time the BJP won two seats more than the Shiv Sena.
This small margin of difference in the number of seats increased to a huge gap in 2014 when the BJP won 122 seats, nearly double of the Shiv Sena’s 63.
In 2019, the gap in the number of seats between the two parties narrowed a bit. However, the BJP with 105 seats was still way ahead of the regional party that managed to win only 55.
Not just the seats, the Shiv Sena also fell far behind the BJP in terms of the share share.
BJP’s vote share in the assembly elections increased from 10.71% in 1990 to 25.75% in 2019. During the same period, the Shiv Sena’s vote share increased marginally from 15.94% to 16.41%.
Even at its best, the regional party could not cross the 20% mark and registered its maximum in 2004 when it got 19.97% of votes.
In the 2014 assembly elections, the BJP registered an increase of nearly 13.5% of votes compared to the 2009 assembly elections and surged ahead of the Shiv Sena. The regional party, however, could only increase its vote share by around 3% from the previous assembly elections.
In the Lok Sabha elections also, the BJP has surged ahead of the Shiv Sena in terms of seat share. In the last two elections, the BJP has 23 seats compared to Shiv Sena’s 18.
From 1991 to 2009, the two parties shared the honors with the BJP ahead in three elections and the Shiv Sena in three.
As these numbers show, the BJP has slowly but surely increased its political influence in the state. This definitely is a matter of concern for the Shiv Sena, which has been struggling to prevent the decline in its political fortunes.
With Hindutva ideology at its core, the Shiv Sena shares an overlapping political space with the BJP. That explains why it faces greater challenges from the BJP than its current allies – the NCP and the Congress.
There was a time when Balasaheb Thackeray-led Shiv Sena was considered the most vocal Hindutva force in India. However, that has now changed. The BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is today a very strong political force fighting for the Hindutva agenda.
Uddhav also realizes that his party association with the BJP is no more symbiotic. The saffron party has made huge gains over the years becoming a threat not just for the NCP and the Congress but also for the Shiv Sena.
Perhaps, it was this realization that forced Uddhav Thackeray to go for an alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress in 2019 to keep the BJP out of power.
However, as things have turned out, the BJP now has a real chance to avenge Sena’s betrayal of 2019 and not just form its government but also ensure that Uddhav loses control over his party.
Senior Sena leader Eknath Shinde has rebelled with the majority of the party MLAs. Reports suggest that he has the support of nearly 40 out of the 55 Sena MLAs. The rebels want Uddhav to quit the “unnatural” alliance with the NCP and the Congress and return to the BJP fold.
The rebels fear that their brand of Hindutva will not survive in the face of the aggressive Hindutva of the BJP.
Uddhav knows the electoral implications of the current political crisis and hence is going all out to woo the dissidents.