Mumbai: The 25-year-old Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance in Maharashtra is on the verge of collapse ahead of the 15 October assembly election as the BJP wants to contest more seats, a demand rejected by the Shiv Sena.
The acrimony is worsened by Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray positioning himself for chief ministership, interviewing candidates to seats previously contested by the BJP and the escalating war of words between alliance leaders.
Ever since the alliance was formed in 1989, Sena and BJP have contested 171 and 117 seats, respectively, to the 288-member state assembly. The formula was tweaked in 2009 when Shiv Sena and BJP contested 169 and 119 seats, respectively. In the recent Lok Sabha elections, the alliance roped in three regional parties to form the so-called Mahayuti (grand alliance), which went on to sweep 42 out of 48 Lok Sabha seats in the state. Emboldened by its landslide Lok Sabha victory, the BJP has demanded a bigger share in the state, running into fierce resistance from the regional ally.
Rajiv Pratap, general secretary of BJP and in-charge of Maharashtra, told reporters in Pune, “After leaving seats for smaller parties in the Mahayuti, each party (BJP and Sena) should get 135 seats.”
However, senior Shiv Sena leader and party spokesman Sanjay Raut told Marathi news channel ABP Majha, “There will be no change in the seat-sharing formula between Sena and BJP. Yes, we will leave some seats for smaller parties, but Sena will not contest anything less than 150 seats.”
On Sunday, Thackeray interviewed ticket aspirants from Jalgaon in northern Maharashtra, including those from seats which the BJP had contested in 2009—a clear message that the Sena was willing to go solo if the BJP refused to back down. Jalgaon district has a total of 11 seats and in 2009, Sena and the BJP had contested six and five seats, respectively.
Gulabrao Patil, Shiv Sena’s party secretary and senior leader from northern Maharashtra, said, “There is nothing wrong in holding interviews to seats contested by BJP. There may be swapping of some seats and in such an eventuality, Uddhavji should know who are party activists seeking from those seats and what are their strengths and weaknesses.”
However, analysts believe the situation can still be salvaged if BJP shows magnanimity, allowing Sena to continue playing a dominant role in Maharashtra.
If the partnership indeed breaks down, it will be the second time an ally is leaving the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in a fortnight. Earlier, Kuldeep Bishnoi-led Haryana Janhit Congress had snapped ties with BJP over seat sharing issues for the Haryana assembly elections.
On Saturday, at a function organized by Hindi news channel Aaj Tak, Thackeray had said he was not a dreamer, and did not dream of becoming chief minister. But, he said, he wouldn’t hesitate to accept such responsibility if the people give his party the mandate.
Mocking the so-called Modi wave, Thackeray said, “If there was any such wave, why did not we see it in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu? A lot of things depend on alliance partners, too. Mumbai is near the sea and we have seen lot of giant waves. We know how to withstand them.”
The BJP is not amused by Thackeray’s comments on chief ministership and the jibe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Leader of opposition in the state assembly and senior BJP leader Eknath Khadse said, “The understanding between BJP and Sena is that whoever has more legislators gets chief ministership. There is no question of changing that formula.”
State BJP spokesman Madhav Bhandari told reporters there was “increasing pressure” from the party cadre to call off talks after Thackeray’s remarks on Modi. He said the talks have come to a standstill as leaders from both parties have not met in the last two-three days.
Sandeep Pradhan, political editor of Marathi newspaper Lokmat, said, “Ties between both have reached a breaking point, but I still believe that will not lead towards taking that final plunge as both parties are pragmatic enough to not to let go of the best chance they have to come to power in the state after 15 years.” However, he said, it will be BJP who will have to walk the extra mile to save the alliance as Sena won’t give up the big brother position it enjoyed since the inception of the alliance.