As the new Maharashtra assembly held its first sitting on Monday, the Shiv Sena staked claim to the post of leader of the opposition even as it continued to negotiate with the BJP on joining the government.
The BJP confirmed talks were on but reiterated that the Sena should accept what was offered and stop demanding a certain number of ministerial berths or portfolios.
Undermining the seriousness of the legislature’s procedures in its bid to pressure the BJP, the Sena nominated Eknath Shinde for leader of the Opposition. Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray justified it saying he sent the letter to the legislature secretary because the Congress was rushing to grab the post.
“The talks (with BJP) are going on and on and what if it doesn’t work? Then we won’t get either (neither power nor post of opposition leader),” Thackeray said at a party meet on Monday evening. If the talks with BJP fail the Sena would perform the role of a strong opposition party, he added.
The Sena expects the BJP to concede its demands —10-12 ministerial berths with key portfolios and the post of deputy chief minister or home minister — to vote in favour of the trust vote on November 12. The BJP is 23 votes short of a majority.
The two parties split just before the assembly elections after 25 years together. Now, both have taken strong positions on power-sharing, but are still talking. A section of BJP leaders would prefer to take the Sena along as they believe accepting outside support of the NCP would be politically damaging.
Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis himself would prefer to go with `natural ally’ Sena, but wants Thackeray to make `reasonable’ demands since the BJP already has 121 seats.
The Sena leadership, while slowly reconciling itself to sitting in the opposition, is wary the BJP could poach some of its 63 MLAs. It is also worried it could lose control of the Mumbai civic body, where it is in alliance with the BJP.
On Sunday, Thackeray asked Anil Desai, the Sena’s Rajya Sabha member who was to join Narendra Modi’s ministry, to boycott the swearing in. Later, he asked the BJP to clarify its stand on seeking the NCP’s support from outside.
On Monday, the Sena staked claim to the post of leader of the opposition a couple of hours after NCP chief Sharad Pawar reiterated his resolve to support the BJP from outside and ridiculed Thackeray for making remarks against him a day before.
Armed with a plan B for winning the trust vote – support from the NCP and 14 to 17 MLAs from small parties and Independents -- the BJP was still hopeful of patching up with the Sena. It prefers the Sena because of their common ideology and experience of working together. The BJP was unwilling to go with NCP because of the party’s tainted track record.
The BJP can expect find the going tough if it leans on the NCP. Pawar gave it a veiled warning on Monday when he said that the BJP should reopen and inquire into all the cases (of corruption and irregularities) against his leaders.
A confident Fadnavis, who said earlier his mandate (from the party high command) was to govern and not to save the government, put on a brave face by telling party colleagues that he would sail through in any case.
When asked, Fadnavis refused to comment on the matter.A senior BJP leader told HT that the doors were kept open for the Sena even after the day’s development. "Talks with the Sena are on through several channels. We are still hopeful of the Sena withdrawing the claim [to the post of leader of the opposition] if we strike a suitable deal."