Hours after the Shiv Sena declared itself the “big brother in Maharashtra" after a meeting of its MPs chaired by party chief Uddhav Thackeray, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis hit back saying that the BJP would win “with or without the Shiv Sena". Fadnavis also challenged the Shiv Sena to its commitment to “Hindutva", saying those “who are committed to Hindutva would come along and those who do not come along will join those who are anti-Hindus".
The BJP wants an alliance with the Shiv Sena but “the party of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi would not accept a dishonourable deal", Fadnavis said at the party’s state executive meeting in Jalna in Marathwada.
Earlier, Shiv Sena’s Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut said the “Shiv Sena was, is, and would be the big brother in Maharashtra" and that there was no proposal from the BJP about alliance. Later, BJP state unit president Raosaheb Danve also said in Jalna that no formal discussions had begun between the two parties over alliance.
Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray had called a meeting of party MPs on Monday to hear their views on a potential alliance with the BJP for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Raut said that there was no formal proposal from the BJP about an alliance and that the meeting called by Thackeray “only briefly discussed" it.
“The meeting was called basically to chalk out the party strategy for the upcoming budget session of Parliament. We did not sit with a proposal for alliance on the agenda," Raut said, indicating that the Shiv Sena was not in a mood to make the first move towards forming a pre-poll alliance with the BJP.
Raut said the party wanted the Modi government to exempt people earning up to ₹8 lakh per annum from paying income tax. “Our MPs will pursue this demand during the budget session as this decision would provide relief to a large number of people in the country," Raut said.
The meeting was significant in the wake of the BJP’s persistent efforts to engage with the Shiv Sena and the concern expressed by a large number of Sena MPs about the need to take a decision on an alliance. A Sena MP who attended the meeting said that all MPs authorized Thackeray to take the final decision on the alliance. “It is a media-created myth that some of our MPs are afraid of contesting the next elections without an alliance with the BJP. It is the BJP that is afraid of 2019. We told Uddhav Saheb that we will wholeheartedly accept his decision," said the MP who did not want to be named.
Raut’s “big brother" jibe was clearly aimed at the BJP, which in its post-2014 avatar won a simple majority in the Lok Sabha and emerged the single largest party in Maharashtra assembly elections too, following which it started conducting itself as the “big brother" in the state. Before 2014, the BJP played second fiddle to the Shiv Sena, contesting fewer seats in the assembly elections although the party fielded its candidates in 26 of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra. In the assembly polls, the Shiv Sena contested more than 170 seats of the total of 288, while the BJP contested the rest. However, the 2014 elections changed this equation.
The BJP, emboldened by its 2014 success, consolidated by a string of victories in local polls in Maharashtra, has refused to play the junior partner, in the process, angering the Shiv Sena. The Shiv Sena, according to its MPs and other leaders, wants to contest at least an equal number of Lok Sabha and assembly seats, and also demands the post of chief minister.