With the Bharatiya Janata Party all set to elect its chief ministerial candidate on Tuesday, a cornered Shiv Sena is making last-ditch efforts to patch up with it and join the ministry that will take office on October 31. Within the BJP itself, it was clear Devendra Fadnavis was set to be CM though murmurs of dissent continued.
The BJP, which is busy finalizing its team of ministers, is not willing to concede the Sena’s demands for key portfolios and an assurance that Vidarbha will not get statehood.
Two senior Sena leaders, Subhash Desai and Anil Desai, in New Delhi on Monday met Union petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan who has been authorized by BJP president Amit Shah to talk to the estranged ally. Late in the evening, senior BJP leader Vinod Tawde met Shah to apprise him of the State BJP’s views on getting the Sena aboard.
That the Sena was softening its stand was clear in the morning when its mouthpiece, Saamna, said the party would support a BJP-led government as the party had got a mandate.
"We will have to keep our political differences aside and work with the BJP chief minister for the unity of Maharashtra. We have kept ourselves together even in difficult circumstances and it will be better if it remains so," said the editorial in Saamna, which is regarded as the view of Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray.
The BJP had on Sunday told the Sena to drop all conditions and demands if it wished to participate in the government. The Nationalist Congress Party weakened the Sena’s case further when its boss Sharad Pawar said in an interview that his party would abstain from a trust vote. Pawar on Monday told HT that his party was yet to take decision on abstaining from voting but he did not see any hurdles to the BJP forming the government.
The NCP, which has 41 MLAs, has already extended support from outside to the BJP, which is still undecided on accepting it. The Sena, with 63 MLAs, has said it would support the BJP that won 122 seats in the 288-member assembly. One BJP MLA, Govind Rathod (elected from Nanded district), died of a heart attack on Sunday night. With the support of small parties and independents, the BJP’s tally is around 135.
The Sena leaders have pinned their hopes on the BJP’s national leadership; they see the state BJP leaders as roadblocks to a post-poll alliance. Tawde denied this was true and said the Sena needed to drop its conditions first. The Sena had earlier sought 14 berths, but later scaled down its demand to 10. It also wants key portfolios including home or finance. The BJP is not willing to give the Sena more than five berths and no key portfolios.
The BJP is prepared to run a minority government. It will elect its CM candidate, most probably state president Devendra Fadnavis, who has the backing of the party bosses, on Tuesday, despite protests by senior leader Eknath Khadse. The leader from north Maharashtra told media persons on Monday that he was still in the race and no name was approved in advance by the party bosses. Earlier, union minister Nitin Gadkari’s camp had demanded that he be made the CM. But Gadkari has withdrawn from the race and backed Fadnavis.
On Tuesday, central observers union home minister Rajnath Singh, party general secretary (state in-charge) JP Nadda, state poll in-charge OP Mathur and former state in-charge general secretary Rajeev Pratap Rudy will attend a meeting of the party’s newly elected MLAs to select the CM candidate.
The swearing-in ceremony has been postponed by a day to October 31 so that prime minister Narendra Modi can attend. A team of 15-20 ministers is expected to take oath.
The Wankhede Stadium is being decked up for the function, expected to be attended by 30,000 to 40,000 BJP workers coming from all corners of the state.