The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Thursday made clear its ambition of becoming the largest party in Maharashtra with speaker after speaker at the state executive meeting demanding that it contest more seats. Some even said the BJP should go it alone if need be in the assembly polls expected to take place later this year.
So far the Sena has contested 171 seats in elections to the 288-member assembly, leaving 117 to the BJP.
At Thursday’s meeting to discuss the strategy for the assembly elections, the BJP’s intent to drive a hard bargain was clear. Fresh from an unprecedented victory in the recent Lok Sabha polls where it bagged 23 of the 24 seats it contested in Maharashtra, several party leaders demanded that the alliance with the Sena be called off to ensure that the BJP grows in the State.
"We have always been compromising on the number of seats. Now, the time has come for us to go it alone. If we don't, we will be reducing to being a bonsai tree.” Said former legislator Madhu Chavan to loud applause from party workers.
The party leadership made it clear that the seat-sharing would have to be reworked. "We will have to take a call on the seat-sharing agreement with our partners. The party will also have to take a proper decision on the demands made by workers about party's expansion plans," said core committee member and former state party chief Sudhir Mungantiwar.
Revealing the BJP’s expansionist agenda in Maharashtra, union transport and shipping minister Nitin Gadkari said the party cadre should be working in that direction. “If we can’t win a particular seat, take people from other parties who can win the seats,”Gadkari told the partymen.
The executive meeting was conducted in presence of Gadkari and the party’s Maharashtra in-charge, Rajiv Pratap Rudy.
At the meeting, leaders repeatedly drew attention to the BJP’s performance in the Lok Sabha elections, especially its leads in assembly constituencies. The resentment over the long-standing seat-sharing formula with the Sena was clear.
Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s not-so-hidden chief ministerial ambitions too have ruffled feathers in the BJP. "It’s only natural that after so many years of hard work, workers will want the next chief minister to be from the BJP," said Union minister for environment and forests Prakash Javadekar.
State party chief Devendra Fadnavis, however, said the alliance with the Sena would remain. "They have been our friends for 25 years. It won't be fair to leave them behind, now that things are looking up for our party. However, the concerns raised [that the BJP should contest more seats] will be conveyed to our higher leadership."
Meanwhile, in response, the Shiv Sena said it was not attaching too much importance to what BJP leaders said at their internal meeting on Thursday. “Uddhavji is in touch with Prime Minister Modi and BJP president Rajnath Singh. He will speak with them on the issues that need to be discussed,” said party spokesman Sanjay Raut.