The forthcoming battle for Maharashtra threatens to reopen wounds hastily stitched together by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections.
Differing interpretations of chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’ 18 February statement renewing their alliance for Lok Sabha polls—made in the presence of BJP president Amit Shah and Shiv Sena boss Uddhav Thackeray—have revived questions on which party will get to name the next chief minister if their alliance comes to power after assembly polls likely in October.
Fadnavis merely said the allies would “equitably share power and posts" and that the alliance was struck not for “seats and posts but for the larger ideological reasons". The Shiv Sena has interpreted this as sharing of the chief minister’s post for two and half years each, though the party has not officially taken this position. In February itself, Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut claimed the next chief minister would be from Shiv Sena.
After the Lok Sabha polls which saw the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) win 41 of 48 seats in Maharashtra and 353 overall, the question has resurfaced. The BJP’s landslide haul of 303 seats, winning 21 more seats than it got in 2014, has inspired its cadres in Maharashtra to dream of total control over the state. Senior BJP leader and Maharashtra finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar on Monday told reporters in Nashik that the next chief minister would be from the BJP.
A Shiv Sena functionary, who did not want to be named, told Mint that Mungantiwar’s statement had no meaning. “We are going by what Fadnavis said at the time of announcement of the alliance, that we will have an equal share in power and posts after assembly polls. Fadnavis said it in the presence of Amit Shah. We don’t attach any importance to what others in the BJP say," said this Shiv Sena functionary.
The post of chief minister is, of course, not the sole bone of contention between the uneasy allies. There are other unsettled issues like the exact number of seats each ally would contest, the seats that would be swapped between them, and how best to accommodate the smaller allies. In February, the allies agreed to first set aside a certain number of seats for the smaller parties and then divide the remaining seats equally between them. But senior BJP leader and Maharashtra revenue minister Chandrakant Patil said last week that the BJP and Shiv Sena would each contest 135 seats and set aside 18 seats for the smaller allies. Maharashtra assembly has 288 seats. But the Shiv Sena dismissed this, claiming that the BJP may force smaller allies to contest on the BJP symbol so that it gets the post of chief minister by virtue of being the single largest party. The Shiv Sena claim, though not made officially, was nearly confirmed when NDA ally Republican Party of India’s chief and union minister of state Ramdas Athawale categorically ruled out contesting on BJP symbol.
Prakash Pawar, professor of political science at Kolhapur’s Shivaji University, sees a “very thin possibility of BJP-Shiv Sena alliance holding up" in the assembly polls. “The kind of mandate the BJP has got in Maharashtra and in the country has definitely raised its hegemonic ambitions. BJP may not feel the need to have Shiv Sena together and lose the opportunity to rule a state like Maharashtra. The BJP cadres may want to go it alone in the assembly polls and see if they can carry the Lok Sabha momentum to win the elections on their own," Pawar told Mint.
The BJP-Shiv Sena fought the 2014 Lok Sabha elections together and won 41 seats. But they separated before the October 2014 assembly polls and fought each other. The BJP won 122 and Sena 63 and later came together to form a coalition government.