The blow hot, blow cold approach of the BJP and the Shiv Sena with respect to a pre-poll alliance for the Lok Sabha elections is rooted in their mutual interdependence, with an analysis of their electoral performance over nearly three decades shows that both parties have fed off each other to gain political strength.
Since they joined hands in 1989, the alliance has helped the Shiv Sena use the BJP to gain grounds in national politics. At the same time, it ensured that the BJP gained greater penetration into Maharashtra, thanks to the Sena.
For the Lok Sabha elections, the Sena's support base in Maharashtra grew by a phenomenal 857 per cent, from 10.51 lakh votes in 1989 when it won four seats to over one crore votes in 2014 when it won 18 seats. During the same period, the BJP's share increased by 103 per cent, from 65.34 lakh votes in 1989 that won it 10 Lok Sabha seats to 1.33 crore votes in 2014, which helped it win 23 seats in Maharashtra.
The parties first came together in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections when neither had a significant political presence in the state. The Sena was then reluctant to contest general elections.
The nature of the alliance was designed to give the Sena a dominant number of seats in the Assembly elections, while the BJP would get the majority of seats in the Lok Sabha elections. This arrangement seems to have reaped benefits for the BJP in making inroads into Maharashtra.
In 1984, when the BJP fought on its own symbol in the state, it received only 21.99 lakh votes and it did not manage to win any Lok Sabha seats. A strategic seat sharing agreement with the Sena saw its vote share almost double to 23.72 per cent in the 1989 elections when it garnered 65.34 lakh votes and won 10 seats. The alliance also allowed the Sena to step into the national political scene.
The initial seat sharing agreements for the Lok Sabha polls were lopsided in favour of the BJP with it initially contesting 33 to the Sena's six of the total 48 seats. As the two made progress, the Sena started getting a larger share of the seats. In the 2014 elections, the last election they contested as allies, the BJP contested 24 seats to the Sena's 20.
Meanwhile, at the state-level, the BJP has been the major beneficiary of the two-decade-old alliance. An analysis of the party at the hustings since it joined hands with the Sena in 1990 till 2009, when they last fought state elections together, shows that its support base has grown by 99.72 per cent compared to Sena's vote base that grew at half the rate, by 55.62 per cent.
The Sena and the BJP formally contested Assembly elections as allies in 1990. In the five Assembly elections that took place between 1990 and 2009, the total number of votes polled increased by 52 per cent. The voter base of the Sena grew at the same pace at 55.66 per cent from 47.33 lakh in 1990 to 73.69 lakh in 2009. However, the BJP seems to have gained the most from joining hands with the Sena, growing its votes by a phenomenal 99.72 per cent from 31.80 lakh in 1990 to 63.52 lakhs in 2009.
In the run up to the 2014 state elections, in which the two parties had called off their alliance, there had been a perception in the Sena cadre that the BJP had gained a lot more from the alliance and vice versa. Some Sainiks had then felt that aligning with the BJP had been detrimental to the party, with the BJP historically having appeared to muscle out its regional allies.
The dominance of the BJP can be gauged from the fact that after its split with the Sena in the 2014 elections, it managed to nearly double its vote share from 14.02 per cent in 2009 to 27.81 per cent in 2014. During the same period, the Sena could increase its base from only 16.26 per cent to 19.35 per cent.