Two and a half years later, the BJP has done just that. It installed a rebel Shiv Sainik, Eknath Shindeas prime minister of the state.
Not only that, but the BJP has also “requested” its own leader. Devendra Fadnaviswho was party leader from 2014 to 2019, to work as Shinde’s deputy.
The double twist in Maharashtra history is not only surprising but fascinating.
2019 vs 2022
When Uddhav Thackeray Breaking Shiv Sena’s decade-long association with the BJP in 2019, he may have been concerned about the Saffron Party’s growing popularity and reach in the state. Over the years, the BJP had outgrown its ally, increasing not only its seat count but its vote share even as the Shiv Sena struggled to expand its base. Uddhav may have known that playing second fiddle to the BJP would have further undermined his party’s base.
The BJP, which had won almost twice as many seats as Shiv Sena, was clearly in no mood to give in. Devendra Fadnavis, who had led the BJP campaign, insisted on not allowing Shiv Sena to lead the coalition, even on a rotating basis.
So what has changed now for the BJP to reverse its stance and play second fiddle despite the party having more than double MLAs than the rebellious Sena camp?
One of the possible reasons for this “feat” may have to do with the internal turmoil in Shiv Sena unleashed by rebel leader-turned-Prime Minister Eknath Shinde.
With the Uddhav-led MVA government overthrown, Shinde would now be keen to seize control of the party. His appointment as prime minister will help him court the Shiv Sainiks at all levels and gain control of the party.
This would make it all the more difficult for Uddhav Thackeray and his son Aditya to rebuild the party after the massive rebellion that gave them just 13 MLAs out of 55.
A resurgent Shinde means Uddhav must first focus on saving his party, rather than focusing on taking on the BJP in the state.
For the BJP, going forward without the Thackerays, a Shiv Sena will be much easier to manage and defeat if needed.
Furthermore, the BJP would not have wanted to run with the Mahagathbandhan of the Shiv Sena, the NCP and Congress on one side in the next parliamentary elections and also in the Lok Sabha elections in 2024.
Fadnavis from CM to Deputy CM
Not only has the BJP caused a headache for the Thackerays, it may have sent a strong message to Devendra Fadnavis, credited as the architect of the Sena rebellion and, with the help of Shinde, was the lead candidate to take office as prime minister in the camp.
Fadnavis had played a key role in the BJP’s recent surprise wins in the Rajya Sabha elections and also in the state’s MLC polls. The cross-vote that helped the BJP win additional seats has been largely attributed to the former prime minister’s meticulous planning.
So as the rebellion unfolded in Shiv Sena, the focus was on Fadnavis, who was believed to be pulling the strings behind the scenes.
When Uddhav resigned on Wednesday night, almost everyone believed Fadnavis was just one step away from becoming leader. But as it turns out, that final step remained elusive for him when the BJP decided to install Shinde at the helm.
Accepting the twist of fate, the former prime minister announced he would not join the Shinde government but would provide outside support.
However, within hours he had to reconsider his decision and agreed to be Shinde’s deputy in the new government.
BJP’s image makeover?
The BJP’s attempt to prop up Sena rebel leader Eknath Shinde will also help it combat the image of a power-hungry party subjugating its allies.
Maharashtra will be the second state after Bihar where the BJP plays second fiddle to a regional ally, despite being the senior partner in terms of seats and vote share.
For a party accused by the opposition of playing the big brother of regional groups, these two victims will help to silence those criticisms.
Of course, the BJP may have made sacrifices now, but they will hope to make big gains in the future. The only concern might be Fadnavis, who might not be the happiest person playing second fiddle to a renegade Sena leader.
However, his demotion may be a short-term victim. Fadnavis could be back in the saddle after 2024 if the BJP hoped to emerge as the clear winner in the state.