Claiming that the alliance has its basis in their common ideology of Hindutva, the BJP and Shiv Sena launched a joint election campaign at a rally in Kolhapur on March 24. However, even as the top leaders of the two parties tried to show a united front, their discomfort with each other was evident. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray had apparently come together to explain to voters why they have realigned after criticising each other for four-and-a-half years. As per the pre-poll alliance between the BJP and the Sena, the former will contest 25 seats and the latter 23 out of the 48 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state.
When he arrived at the stage along with Fadnavis, Thackeray took some time to break the coconut to inaugurate the programme. The ever cautious Thackeray, who is known to take decisions after thorough deliberations, tried his best to show his solidarity on the issue of the Ram temple in Ayodhya and national security. However, he did not give more than one minute to these subjects in his 20-minute speech. He claimed that the Ram temple movement gained momentum due to his visit to Ayodhya in November 2018. “The subject was put on the back burner. I gave it momentum. The Ram temple is a symbol of Ramrajya (good governance),” he said.
Indicating that he has accepted Prime Minister Narendra Modi as his leader, Thackeray called him “Narendra bhai” for the first time in public, instead of his usual “Modi”. “Our PM candidate is fixed. They (the Opposition) should declare their leader,” he said. This was a deviation from his earlier stand that the prime ministerial candidate should be decided after consulting all the alliance partners.
Earlier, Thackeray had targeted Fadnavis for the growing number of farmers’ suicides in the state. At the rally, however, he said that the state government has fulfilled all its promises, particularly by implementing programmes for farmers, without mentioning any specific scheme.
“We are proud Hindus; our definition of religion is adopting a humanitarian approach. We will focus on social schemes for the poor,” Thackeray said, without giving details of any scheme.
The Sena chief did not mention the air strikes conducted by the air force at Balakot in Pakistan. This came as a surprise as the BJP has been insisting that national security will be a big issue this poll.
Thackeray admitted that the tie-up with the BJP will help the Sena. “In the past, when we (the BJP and the Sena) were not on friendly terms, the Congress and the NCP organised protest marches against the government.” He also announced that the Sena will not let down the BJP.
On his part, Fadnavis described Thackeray as the “guide of the alliance” and did not mention the Sena chief’s criticism of his government. “This alliance is beyond caste, language and region. This is an alliance of nationalist parties. We have come together on the basis of patriotism,” Fadnavis said and did not mention the Sena any further in his 25-minute speech. Instead, he referred to various schemes to claim that his government has brought about a positive transformation in the lives of the poor.
However, many in the audience did not seem impressed. Ajit Sutar, a spectator, said, “I came here hoping that Dhairyasheel Mane (Sena candidate from Hatkanangale) will spell out his election promises, I wasn’t keen about the speeches of Thackeray and Fadnavis.” For Nilesh Chavan, a Sena worker, the enthusiasm in the audience was important. “Even if the speeches were dull, we are fully charged because now we have an opportunity to demolish the NCP bastion in Kolhapur,” he said. The BJP- Sena chose Kolhapur to start their campaign as they believe that this western Maharashtra region needs nurturing. They had won six out of the 10 LS seats in this region in 2014.