Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray on Monday rejected the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) demand to contest 135 of Maharashtra’s 288 assembly seats in the October 15 polls, escalating tensions between the two oldest allies in the National Democratic alliance.
The spat over seat-sharing sparked speculation that the Shiv Sena may go it alone, but Thackeray said efforts are still on to work out a formula ahead of the elections. The state BJP unit, too, is likely to ask party president Amit Shah when he visits from September 17-19 that they fight the elections on their own if the Sena doesn’t meet their demand.
The assembly polls are seen as a key test of the BJP’s popularity after it charged to power on the back of what the party called a ‘Modi wave’ in the general election. Any falling out of the two allies could divide opposition votes, undermining the advantage the BJP gained after its impressive performance in the state in the April-May Lok Sabha election. This will probably help the Congress-led coalition retain power in one of the country’s politically-crucial states.
“Everything has an alternative. I have conveyed it to BJP that I can’t go beyond a point (over the number of seats to contest),” Thackeray said when asked whether the Sena was weighing the option of fighting the elections alone.
Tensions between the two parties grew on Sunday when BJP state president Devendra Fadnavis said his party had decided against talking to the Sena over the seat-sharing issue after the Sena chief took a dig at PM Narendra Modi during a television interview.
“In Maharashtra, the Modi factor worked (in the Lok Sabha polls). But the alliance parties must also be given credit. The Modi factor didn’t work in many states during the Lok Sabha elections,” Thackeray told the channel.
The Sena chief, sources said, conveyed to Fadnavis that his party will not agree to anything less than 155 seats. The party with the most legislators will have the bigger claim to the chief minister’s chair, analysts say. Thackeray has made it clear he has his eyes on the post.
The BJP and the Sena contested 119 and 169 seats in the previous assembly polls. The necessity to revisit the formula arose after four other parties joined the Mahayuti (grand alliance) that won 42 of the state’s 48 Lok Sabha constituencies in May. The Congress-NCP coalition, which has governed Maharashtra since 1999, got only six seats. The two parties are yet to reach a seat-sharing arrangement for the assembly polls.
However, the BJP’s Maharashtra in-charge, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, dismissed speculation over the nearly two-decade-old coalition’s stability. “There is nothing alarming as of now. Reports about a strain on the alliance are mere speculation,” he said over the phone from Mumbai.
The BJP said on Sunday that after allotting seats to smaller allies like RPI (A) and Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, the two major Mahayuti constituents should take 135 seats each.