Largely along expected lines, the two warring allies within the Maharashtra government — the BJP and the Shiv Sena — are now reported to be wooing Sharad Pawar led Nationalist Congress Party.

Shiv Sena head Uddhav Thackeray met with Pawar ten days ago, said CNN News18, and was reportedly told by the veteran politician to come talk to him after quitting the government.

The news comes in the context of comments from leaders in the BJP and the Shiv Sena that they are ready to look outside their marriage for a future partner.

At an event in Amravati ten days ago, BJP leader and Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had praised Pawar for his ‘contributions to the state’ and said: “A generous foe is better than a mean friend.”

Though restrained in his speech, Fadnavis is starting to more and more resemble a harassed husband tired of his wife’s constant tantrums.

Shiv Sena leaders too have communicated their interest in outside partners. Recently party leaders praised Rahul Gandhi. It has also made overtures to Mamata Bannerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal and arguably the most vehement critic of the central government.

OVERLAPPING VOTE BANKS

The relations between the BJP and the Shiv Sena started deteriorating after the BJP — which used to largely appeal to upper caste Hindus — elevated Narendra Modi to its leader and by doing so was able to make deep inroads into the OBC vote bank of Shiv Sena.

As a result, in the last state elections held in 2014, the BJP emerged as the largest party with 122 seats, while Shiv Sena — used to playing the dominant partner — was reduced to just 63 seats.

The Shiv Sena has, since then, tried to differentiate itself from being a ‘saffron’ party to being a saffron party that puts Maharashtra’s interests above everything else. It has tried to paint the BJP as beholden to ‘outside’ interests, projecting it as a party that cannot be truly loyal to Maharashtrian interests.

To send home the message, it has repeatedly attacked many of the key policy decisions of the BJP-led central government, despite being a junior partner in it.

It has also attacked the policies of the BJP-led state government, though less often.

It is believed that the Shiv Sena will ally with the Nationalist Congress Party in the next assembly elections which will happen in 2019, instead of going with its traditional ally the BJP.

Both NCP and Shiv Sena share the distinction of being largely Maharashtra-oriented parties and of drawing their core support from intermediate caste groups in the state, such as Marathas.

Speaking about the meeting between Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar, NCP leader Majid Memon indicated that the NCP does not appreciate Shiv Sena’s attempts to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds.

“Pawar is right in asking Uddhav that he should declare his position by quitting the government,” he said.

Despite politics pulling the allies apart, most observers do not expect Shiv Sena to destabilize the current government and cause mid-term elections. Being in power, they point out, is essential for a single-state party like the Shiv Sena to remain financially healthy, especially as the results of any new election is far from certain.

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