With general elections less than four months away, members of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena have urged their respective leaderships to decide quickly on their alliance, leaders from the two parties said, amid reports that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Shiv Sena boss Uddhav Thackeray are likely to meet soon.
Party leaders and sitting Lok Sabha MPs from both parties said on condition of anonymity that they have flagged the urgency in taking a decision on the alliance, so that they can prepare for the elections jointly or on their own.
Thackeray has called a meeting of party MPs on Monday, one among the invitees said on condition of anonymity, adding the sole item on the agenda is the alliance with BJP. Meanwhile, leading Marathi newspaper Lokmat reported on 25 January about the likelihood of “dinner diplomacy" between Modi and Thackeray, though Mint could not independently verify this. The report said Modi has invited Thackeray for a dinner in Delhi though the Sena president was keen on Modi coming down to his residence “Matoshree" in Mumbai.
A BJP functionary in Maharashtra, who did not want to be named, said the state unit had no idea about this dinner invite. “We don’t know," he said, adding the report may have come from the Shiv Sena to send out signals to the BJP leadership that it was open to starting the dialogue. “They have criticized us (BJP) so much that making a public offerfor talks would look like a bad anti-climax. So, this could be their signal to the BJP leadership that we are willing to talk," said the BJP functionary
But a Shiv Sena MP said on condition of anonymity that the BJP had indeed “sent feelers" to the Shiv Sena leadership to explore such a meeting. “There has certainly been an effort to check if Uddhav saheb would accept such an invite if extended. I don’t know if an invite has already been sent out but the BJP is certainly trying to make sure that if Modi invites, Uddhav saheb should accept the invite because that would send out a big signal," said the Sena MP. He agreed that if such a meeting between Modi and Thackeray took place, it would be virtual confirmation that an alliance is in the works. He added that a large number of MPs have conveyed their sentiment to Thackeray that a “decision has to be taken now" so that sitting MPs and other ticket aspirants could start working in their constituencies. “If we are to contest all 48 seats in Maharashtra, the likely nominees will have to be announced soon," he said.
A BJP MP from Maharashtra, who claimed that his re-election did not depend on an alliance with the Shiv Sena, said it was Shiv Sena which needed the BJP more even for the Lok Sabha elections. “It is a misconception that the BJP needs Shiv Sena more for Lok Sabha and the Shiv Sena needs us more for the assembly elections. Fact is that 90% of the sitting Shiv Sena MPs (Lok Sabha) aren’t sure of retaining their seats and want an alliance. Even the Shiv Sena leadership is keen on retaining its tally (18 seats) in the Lok Sabha because that gives the Sena substantial bargaining space in government formation in 2019. If there is no alliance, we will also suffer but we will also get to contest more seats than we did in 2014. Some 50% of the sitting Sena MPs have told us that they are willing to contest on BJP tickets in 2019 if there is no alliance," said this BJP MP who did not want to be named.
For the record though, the BJP has made conciliatory sounds in recent months. After the public bonhomie between chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and Thackeray over a memorial being built for Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray, senior BJP leader and Maharashtra revenue minister Chandrakant Patil told reporters last week that the alliance could be announced “any moment", adding the BJP was keen to have Shiv Sena on board.