The ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Maharashtra is likely to announce its seat sharing formula for the state soon with the two parties, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena, struggling to reach an agreement so far, even as the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) had already announced its seat sharing plan.

With the Election Commission announcing the poll dates on Saturday, the ruling alliance has not yet been able to reach an agreement while the opposition parties, Congress and NCP, have said they will contest equal number of seats, 125 each, while the remaining 38 seats out of the total 288 in state assembly will be distributed among smaller parties.

The problem for the two ruling alliance partners is that while Shiv Sena leadership has insisted that both BJP and Shiv Sena should contest on equal number of seats, there is a growing section within the Maharashtra unit of BJP which believes that the formula of sharing the 288 assembly seats equally may not benefit the party and instead there should be a rethink on the formula of seat sharing with Shiv Sena.

Although the first round of talks between Shiv Sena and BJP has been carried out by BJP president of Maharashtra unit Chandrakant Patil and minister in Maharashtra cabinet Sudhir Mungantiwar, Shiv Sena leaders have maintained that they will not settle for anything less than 135 seats out of the total 288.

"We believe that at some point BJP president Amit Shah and Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray will have to step in in this consultation to find a solution. The Election Commission has announced that nominations have to be filed by 4 October which gives us little time," said a senior BJP leader based in Mumbai.

Interestingly, announcement of election dates comes just a day after Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray held a press conference in Mumbai. Thackeray indicated that while BJP and Shiv Sena will contest state polls together, there was still discussion on seat sharing formula. Thackeray had told reporters on Friday that before the Lok Sabha polls, there was detailed discussion between BJP president Amit Shah, Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and Thackeray. The two parties had decided to contest both the Lok Sabha and assembly elections on equal number of seats.

The issue is that many senior BJP leaders in Maharashtra believe that since BJP already has 122 members of legislative assembly because the party had contested a majority number of seats alone in the previous assembly elections in 2014. Members of the BJP argue that a solution to the problem could be that BJP and Shiv Sena can retain their 122 and 63 seats respectively, while remaining 103 seats can get divided equally between the two alliance partners.

“If the new formula works out then BJP will get to contest around 160-165 seats while Shiv Sena will be able to contest over 115-120 seats. This is a respectable formula for both the parties in the state. Going by the performance of BJP in 2014 Lok Sabha polls, assembly elections and 2019 general elections, BJP has managed to win more number of seats in the state," the BJP leader quoted above said.

This is not the first time that when there is a difference of opinion between leaders of BJP and Shiv Sena because the two parties had parted ways just before the previous assembly elections on the issue of seat sharing. However, Shiv Sena continued to remain in the alliance nationally.

Before the 2019 general elections also, Shiv Sena had a passed a resolution that the party would contest all elections alone. However, the two parties contested the general elections together.

Last week, NCP chief Sharad Pawar had announced the seat sharing arrangement of his party with Congress. While the NCP has already announced the first list of its five candidates, Congress has been holding screening committee meetings and is likely to announce its first list soon.

Congress and NCP are looking at the state polls as a test of alliance and their individual electoral prospects. The alliance fared poorly in Maharashtra in the Lok Sabha elections held earlier this year. Of the 48 parliamentary seats in the state, the NCP won only four, while the Congress won one seat.