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BJP, Shiv Sena tension could help Congress

BJP, Shiv Sena tension could help Congress
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First Published: Sun, Sep 20 2009. 11 11 PM IST

 Joint front: Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray (left) and BJP general secretary Gopinath Munde in Mumbai on Saturday. PTI
Joint front: Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray (left) and BJP general secretary Gopinath Munde in Mumbai on Saturday. PTI
Updated: Sun, Sep 20 2009. 11 11 PM IST
New Delhi: The seat-sharing arrangement that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has reached with the Shiv Sena for elections in Maharashtra is almost the same as last time, but the country’s main opposition party has been forced to concede more than mere constituencies.
Joint front: Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray (left) and BJP general secretary Gopinath Munde in Mumbai on Saturday. PTI
For a start, the BJP has been forced to fall in with the Shiv Sena’s unilateral declaration of Uddhav Thackeray as the chief ministerial candidate for the combine in the 13 October elections.
“Ever since the death of Pramod Mahajan, the Shiv Sena has clearly overtaken the BJP and fresh infighting and groupism (in the state unit of the BJP) has added to their troubles,” said B. Venkatesh Kumar, professor of political science at Mumbai university. “The recent announcement of Uddhav Thackeray as the chief minister candidate is just one among them.”
The BJP will contest 119 of the total 288 seats in the state legislature, two more than last time. Among the candidates for the 66 seats announced by the party is Poonam Mahajan, daughter of the late Pramod Mahajan, from Ghatkopar (West). As many as 27 sitting legislators have been given tickets in the first list.
The elections will be a test for both sides, with price increases and an erratic monsoon putting the Congress-led coalition, ruling at the Centre and in the state, under pressure months after a comfortable victory in the April-May general election that saw the party gain an edge in the key western state as well.
The BJP is seeking to rebuild its electoral support and overcome divisions in the leadership that have plagued it since the general election. That has encouraged the Shiv Sena to dig in its heels on the choice of the chief ministerial candidate.
The tension between the BJP and the Shiv Sena should improve the prospects of the ruling Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) alliance returning to power for a third consecutive term, analysts say.
However, the BJP says it is optimistic. “Everything will be sorted out,” said party spokesperson Prakash Javadekar, the key negotiator between the alliance partners.
His party colleague Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who is in charge of the Maharashtra assembly elections, said the party had not fully conceded on the issue. “It’s a set formula. Whoever has the largest number of seats would have its chief minister. If the Shiv Sena wins, it can have its leader Uddhav Thackeray as the chief minister,” Naqvi said.
The opposition’s prospects haven’t been improved by the presence of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), a breakaway group of the Shiv Sena. The votes cast for the MNS helped the Congress and the NCP overcome the anti-incumbency factor in the Lok Sabha elections. While the Congress and the NCP won 17 and eight seats, respectively, the BJP won nine and the Shiv Sena got 11 out of the total 48 parliamentary tally. In the 2004 assembly elections, the BJP-Shiv Sena got a 32.64 % vote share, 7% less than the winners, giving it 118 seats and the ruling coalition 140 seats.
Although the seat-sharing formula remains roughly the same as in the last elections, the party has been forced to concede some key assembly constituencies, according to party insiders. The constituencies include Goregaon, Thane and Guhagar in the Konkan and Khadakvasla in Pune.
“Conceding seats to an ally is not a big issue—we get another seat in lieu for it. Our worry is the poaching of our men by the ruling alliance. It gives an impression among the voters that we are losing the game, which is not true,” said a senior BJP leader, on condition of anonymity.
Both the BJP and the Shiv Sena have already lost some of their sitting legislators. While three Shiv Sena members joined the Congress on 7 September, three BJP legislators joined the NCP last week.
The Congress is yet to come to an understanding with its ally, the NCP. The Congress has sought to face down any hint of assertiveness by the NCP by suggesting that the ruling party would be happy to go it alone if needed. The NCP is unlikely to abandon ship given that party leader Sharad Pawar has a senior Union cabinet position and a key portfolio such as agriculture, thanks to being a Congress ally.
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First Published: Sun, Sep 20 2009. 11 11 PM IST