The Bharatiya Janata Party’s oldest partnership with the Shiv Sena has come under severe strain with BJP president Nitin Gadkari making it clear that the party could not go along with the ‘Mumbai for Maharashtrians’ campaign of the Sena and its breakaway group, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.

In a statement here on Monday, Mr. Gadkari made it plain that his party would uphold the constitutional right of every citizen to reside and settle in any part of India. This was the basis for its objection to Article 370 conferring a special status on Jammu and Kashmir.

The BJP has been demanding that the Article be abrogated in the interest of national integration.

There were regional, linguistic and other identities of people but they all “converge into the larger identity of Indianness.” There could never be or should be a conflict among these various identities, Mr. Gadkari said.

His message came two days after his mentor, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat said: “Mumbai is for all Indians … nobody can prevent Indians from moving to any part of the country in search of employment.” Mr. Bhagwat’s comment was followed by the former RSS spokesperson, Ram Madhav’s statement in Jabalpur on Sunday that the Sangh would try to prevent the spread of anti-north and anti-Hindu sentiments in Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra.

The rift between the two partners became apparent as Sena leader and former Chief Minister Manohar Joshi lost no time in responding to Mr. Bhagwat when he said it was time to “remind the RSS that Mumbai belongs only to Marathi people and they should get priority [in jobs in the city].”

Already, the BJP has had to cope with the fallout of the split in the Sena with Uddhav Thackeray (son of Bal Thackeray) and his cousin Raj Thackeray going their separate ways. The party has been blaming the MNS for splitting saffron votes and thus helping the Congress and its partner, the Nationalist Congress Party, bag many seats more than they would otherwise have got.

The ‘Marathi manoos’ theme of the MNS and the Sena led to complete alienation of the hefty north Indian vote-bank in Mumbai from the BJP-Sena alliance.

High stakes in Bihar

The party has so far been trying to ride two horses, not saying anything that would directly annoy the ‘Marathi manoos’ or north Indians. But with high political stakes in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar – in Bihar an Assembly election is due later this year — the BJP cannot afford to take a position that hurts the north Indian migrant in Mumbai.

As a BJP leader from Bihar said, Mr. Gadkari has now made the party position crystal clear. And the message has come ahead of the Assembly poll in the State, where its other long-time coalition partner, the Janata Dal (United), is not amused at the prospect of its ally being part of an anti-Bihari tirade in the western metropolis.