With the Shiv Sena threatening to pull out of the government and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) claiming to prefer a mid-term poll, doubts are being raised over the stability of the Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP government in Maharashtra. Pawar’s remarks are being seen as an indication the party is in no mood to bail out the BJP government for the second time. However, amidst the bitter war of words among the two saffron allies, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray has also carved an escape route to continue an alliance with the BJP by saying he will support the BJP government if farmers’ loans in the state are waived off.
Thackeray also expressed distrust in Pawar questioning his credibility. “The NCP is ready to face mid-term polls in Maharashtra if such a situation emerges after February 23 (the day results of the Mumbai civic polls are declared). There won’t be any loss for Maharashtra if elections are held within two-and-a-half years,” Pawar tweeted on Monday.
Less than a week before the crucial civic polls in the state, Pawar added fuel to the speculation doing rounds about the BJP government’s future after Sena leaders last week hinted at pulling out from the government.
Now the question is what will happen if the Sena decides to withdraw support. The Fadnavis government, which has been enjoying smooth sailing so far, will have to prove its majority during the Assembly floor test if the Sena decides to withdraw its support. The current strength of the BJP is 121 seats, and it will need another 24 seats to claim majority in the 288-seat Assembly if the Sena quits the government. The Sena has 63 MLAs.
Speaking with a Marathi news channel (IBN Lokmat) on Tuesday, the NCP chief reiterated he would prefer fresh elections in Maharashtra in case the Sena quits the government.
His remarks assume significance in the context of his support to the BJP government immediately after the 2014 Assembly elections. Then he had said two back-to-back Assembly elections were not affordable to the state and as such he was supporting the BJP to prevent instability in the state. On Tuesday, he also pointed out the Congress-NCP candidates defeated the BJP with huge margins in the recent elections to five seats of the Legislative Council. The elections were held for teachers’ and graduates’ constituencies, he added.
Significantly, while Pawar talked tough, Thackeray said they will support the BJP government if it waives off loans of the farmers in the state. He cited the example of Uttar Pradesh where the BJP has promised a farm loan waiver if voted to power. Interestingly, Thackeray further chose to repeat the remarks at more than one occasion and the move is being seen as escape route to continue with the BJP.
Later in the evening, Thackeray said he doesn’t trust Pawar. “We don’t trust Pawar. What is the guarantee he [Sharad Pawar] will not support the BJP if we withdraw from the government,” he remarked, while addressing a campaign rally at Dahisar at western suburbs.
Political analyst Prakash Bal said he doesn’t believe the Sena would pull out of the BJP-led government. “Thackeray’s fresh statement shows he has come down a step by saying this as no one wants elections in two-and-a-half years. As of today, it doesn’t seem the Sena will withdraw its support. However, things depend more on the outcome of Mumbai civic body polls and Uttar Pradesh elections later next month after which parties will decide their line of action,” Bal told HT.
On the other hand, the BJP is confident they will complete its full five-year term. Party spokesperson Madhav Bhandari said there is no danger for the BJP government. Hinting correlation, he asked why Pawar and Thackeray are saying similar things.
While the Congress believes that a verbal war of words between the Sena and the BJP is an attempt to occupy space of the Congress and both may come together post elections. “In case, it is true and the NCP sticks to its stand, then mid-term elections are inevitable and the Congress is ready for that because we have already completed our exercise while preparing for local bodies’ poll,” state Congress president Ashok Chavan said.