Two of India’s biggest parties - the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress – parted ways with their long-standing allies on Thursday following differences over sharing of seats in October’s assembly elections in Maharashtra.
While The BJP and Shiv Sena ended their 25-year-old relationship that helped shape Hindu revivalist politics in the country, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) snapped ties 15 years after it allied with the Congress.
The decisions, which came barely an hour apart with the BJP making the first announcement, throw open the election field in Maharashtra where the contest could now be four cornered. This could split the electorate and possibly throw up a hung house.
The 288-member state assembly goes to the polls on October 15 and September 27 is the last day of filing election papers. The Sena, a part of the ruling combine at the Centre, said it would continue in the NDA. The Sena has 18 members in the Lok Sabha, the most for any NDA constituent after the BJP.
“It’s painful but there was no choice,” BJP’s state chief Devendra Fadnavis told reporters after days of negotiations failed to save what was among the longest political alliances in the country.
Shiv Sena and BJP: How they married and divorced
“The ‘Mahayuti' (grand alliance) sans the Shiv Sena will contest the polls. We will not criticise Shiv Sena during (the) campaign and remain friends.”
Over the past week or so, the two parties held several rounds of talks, emerging every time to blame each other for not being inflexible and accommodative of each other’s proposals.
Things came to a head earlier in the day with both sides saying they had exhausted all options. As contradictory reports emerged from Delhi and Mumbai, a high stakes game of brinkmanship unfolded.
Why BJP broke ranks with Sena
Around early evening, it became clear that the Shiv Sena’s final offer of 151 seats was unacceptable to the BJP.
Traditionally, the Sena has contested more seats than the BJP. But after performing better than Sena in the Lok Sabha polls, the BJP wanted larger share. The Sena, however, was not prepared to whittle down its share of 151 seats.
In less than an hour after BJP's announcement, the NCP, too, walked out on the Congress. “The Congress has been adamant and non-responsive despite our numerous attempts,” NCP state chief Sunil Tatkare said.
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“The list of 118 candidates announced by the Congress had two names declared against the independent MLAs inducted by the NCP. This was against the agreement between the two parties,” senior NCP leader Praful Patel said. Party colleague and deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar said the NCP was pulling out of the state government.
Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, who is from the Congress, said the NCP was not serious about seat sharing and was waiting for the Sena-BJP split. “It was not practically possible for us to concede 144 seats to the NCP. Then they put forth the demand for sharing chief ministership which, was not acceptable,” he said.
Read: Split, but Sena maykeep berth at Centre
Both the Congress and the Sena alleged that there was a tacit understanding between the BJP and the NCP. “The NCP wants to get benefit of power at the Centre. I won’t be surprised if there is any unexpected announcement tomorrow,” Chavan said.
The parties are now competing to get smaller allies on their side. The BJP has managed to keep three of the four smaller allies and is trying to woo the fourth partner of the mahayuti, or the grand alliance. The Congress, it is learnt, is in talks with the Samajwadi Party.
Political experts predict a fractured mandate and say rivals may turn into allies to come to power. The BJP has already said it won’t target “friend” Shiv Sena.