Mumbai: On January 9 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was speaking at a public rally in Solapur, Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray was addressing farmers in Beed in Marathwada. While Modi did not say a word about the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance, Uddhav said the alliance talks could go to hell and farmers’ well-being was a priority for his party. A few days before the Modi rally, BJP president Amit Shah and Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis told the BJP booth workers in Latur that if there was no alliance with the Shiv Sena, the BJP would trounce it and win 40 of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra. Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut hit back saying that the Shiv Sena national executive had already passed a resolution that it would go alone in all elections.
This public posturing against each other notwithstanding, both BJP and Shiv Sena internally acknowledge that a pre-poll alliance is “inevitable"and talks must begin in right earnest. Functionaries from the two parties say this “public bluster of going alone" must be toned down now as it could further vitiate the climate of distrust between the two parties who have been allies for nearly three decades now.
“This bluster and bravado in public about going alone must end now. We are already into mid-January and elections are barely four-five months away. Both parties need to start building an atmosphere of some cordiality so that alliance talks can begin," said a senior BJP leader and minister in Maharashtra requesting anonymity.
A Shiv Sena MP, who did not want to be named and who thinks the alliance is necessary for him and several other Shiv Sena MPs to get re-elected in 2019, told Mint that nearly all 18 Lok Sabha MPs of the party were in favour of warming up the BJP. “We have been conveying this sentiment to Uddhav saheb since last four-five months. There is no option for BJP or Shiv Sena but ally with each other. Congress-NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) have reached the advanced stage of seat-sharing talks and if they finalise their alliance before we do, it would give them an early advantage. We have to start talking with a sense of urgency now," said this MP.
Senior leaders from BJP and Shiv Sena have identified a set of problems that they think have made informal alliance talks inconclusive so far. Each party has its set of expectations from and apprehensions about the alliance. The BJP, said a party MP requesting anonymity, was keener on a pre-poll alliance for the Lok Sabha seats. “Even Amit bhai knows we can’t win 40 seats without Shiv Sena. If there is a strong Congress-NCP alliance against us and it looks very likely, we can’t afford to let the Shiv Sena also fight against us. In 2014, we (BJP-led NDA) won 42 seats by huge margins but anti-incumbency will make some dent into these margins. We cannot let it reduce further by allowing a split in our votes," said the BJP MP.
The Shiv Sena MP quoted above said the party leadership understood the BJP’s desperation for alliance for the Lok Sabha polls but it was not so sure about the BJP’s “sincerity of intent" for the assembly polls scheduled to follow. “Uddhav saheb thinks that the BJP would have its way by drafting us into an alliance for Lok Sabha but dump us ahead of the assembly polls like it did in 2014. We don’t want BJP to be calling the shots in Maharashtra and we must have our say in the assembly polls. At the same time, we know that we need the BJP more in the assembly polls," the Sena MP said.
He also said that the Shiv Sena leadership wanted alliance formalised for both the polls “whenever they are held". “It suits us if Lok Sabha and assembly elections are held together and we finalise our alliance for both the elections. But for that to happen, BJP leadership has to agree to finalise seat-sharing for both these elections right now," the Sena MP said. He added that the Sena wanted the talks to begin on a condition that it contested at least half the total 288 assembly seats and that the post of chief minister should go to the party that wins more seats.
The BJP MP, however, ruled out simultaneous elections. “That’s not possible even if Modi ji wants it. The election commission has already pointed out problems in this," he said.