The Bharatiya Janata Party in Maharashtra on Monday rejected ally Shiv Sena's 'final' offer of 119 seats, thus worsening the crisis in the saffron alliance.
BJP president Amit Shah called up Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and urged him not to break the 25-year old alliance, TV reports said. Shah also requested the Sena to rethink on seat sharing for the 288-member assembly polls.
This comes amid indications that the BJP is readying a Plan B with state leaders telling Prime Minister Narendra Modi that they would rather go it alone than accept this.
Modi is now expected to attempt a reconciliation. In New Delhi, the BJP’s top brass took stock of the seat sharing talks, but kept its cards close to its chest.
After a meeting of its parliamentary board, Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah had a separate 10-minute-long meeting. The party remain tight-lipped about it.
The Sena has given the BJP a breather saying it would wait till Monday. The last date for filing nominations is September 27.
“Modi may not immediately sanction an extreme step and could try and convince the Sena chief,” said a BJP leader close to the developments.
For over a fortnight, the saffron combine has been squabbling over the formula for sharing the 288 assembly seats going to polls on October 15.
Earlier in the day, Thackeray speaking at his party’s national executive meeting in Mumbai, told a cheering crowd of Sainiks to prepare to go solo if the talks did not fructify.
In what his partymen saw as his best-ever public speech, Thackeray said his formula -- of 151 seats for the Sena, 119 for the BJP and 18 for smaller allies -- was his last-ditch effort to save the alliance.
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The BJP responded within the hour. “We fought 119 seats in 2009, even now they are offering us 119. How is this justified,” asked senior BJP leader Eknath Khadse. Talking in New Delhi, he said the two parties should reshuffle the 59 seats the Sena has not won in the past three elections and 19 the BJP had not won and then arrive at a figure.
“Also, these talks cannot take place through television. We need to sit face-to-face,” Khadse added, saying the BJP was still open to talks, putting the ball back into the Sena’s court. BJP insiders said the party had readied a list of 130 candidates and was waiting for word from the top leaders to release it.
In his speech, Thackeray criticised the present batch of BJP leaders reminding them of how the alliance, formed by LK Advani, Atal Behari Vajpayee, and Pramod Mahajan with the late Bal Thackeray, came together not for power but for Hindutva.
“We had differences of opinion with Mahajan and [Gopinath] Munde too. But our relationship never got strained like it has happened now. We both knew how much to stretch,” he said. He reminded Modi that the Shiv Sena stood by him during the riots in Gujarat.
He also warned the BJP against creating hurdles when a golden opportunity to win the state elections has arisen, just as they kept to the alliance dharma during the Lok Sabha polls.
The Sena chief did not hide his chief ministerial ambitions either. “If you are looking down on the Shiv Sena, then our sainiks are ready to fight back. Get ready to face consequences…. I promise to capture power in Maharashtra at any cost,” Thackeray said.
The state BJP is bent on teaching the Sena a lesson, but the party’s central leadership thinks a break-up could mar the BJP’s credibility among other allies.
“Any decision needs to be taken with some solid foresight. No doubt that the Sena has us in a catch-22 position, but then we need to find a solution that will go a long away,” said a BJP leader.
While a decision to split has not yet been finalised, the break-up of this long-time friendship is sure to change the political map of Maharashtra for years to come.