The longest political alliance in India is under threat.
The Bharatiya Janata Party has said it will review its ties with the Shiv Sena, but only after the presidential elections, for its decision to back UPA-Left nominee Pratibha Patil. Leaders from Maharashtra wanted the party to immediately snap ties with the party.
Sharing their "agony and anger", central BJP leaders told Maharashtra BJP chief Nitin Gadkari and others at the party's national executive that the immediate focus was to ensure votes for NDA-backed independent nominee, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.
On the other hand, Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray indicated that Maharashtra was the priority of his party than the BJP.
"More than the BJP leaders' reactions, for us what matters is the reaction of the people of Maharashtra," said Thackeray at a press conference at the party headquarters in Central Mumbai, on Tuesday.
Hours before Thackeray's press conference, BJP national general secretary Gopinath Munde made fiery statements in Delhi where party leaders have gathered for its national executive meeting.
"They have betrayed us," Munde told the
. "The alliance may break."
Munde alleged that the Sena had struck a deal with the Congress to ensure former Sena leader Narayan Rane does not become the chief minister. "Marathi pride is not the reason," he said.
Thackeray preferred to downplay these statements. "I can also give a fitting reply to the BJP but I won't. I do not see any reason to end the alliance. The BJP should not make too much of this," said Thackeray.
BJP leader Sushma Swaraj said "a review of the ties with the Sena will be undertaken after the presidential poll, which is our main priority. We do not want to deflect from ensuring enough votes for Shekhawat."
She said the party was upset with Thackeray, but not surprised by his decision. "What is regrettable is the Sena decided to back Patil on the basis of regional considerations when the election of President is a national issue. If we had put a Bengali-speaking leader, would the CPI(M) have supported him? Besides, Thackeray's comment (on Shekhawat) was unwarranted and avoidable."
Swaraj said Shekhawat had filed his nomination when it was clear the Sena would not support him.
Monday's events dealt the strained ties between the allies another blow. Both parties have a more to lose than gain if they part ways. The Sena is ruling the cash-rich Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) with the BJP's support.
The alliance is also in power in the Thane and Nagpur civic bodies. A divorce could lead to an ugly custody battle for power in these bodies.