While the Opposition on Thursday came together to announce a statewide protest rally from March 29 to April 5 to demand a loan waiver for farmers, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), upset with ally Shiv Sena’s continued opposition to it in the legislature, including on the suspension of 19 Opposition legislators, went into a huddle.
Sources in the BJP said the core committee, including senior most ministers, met at revenue minister Chandrakant Patil ‘s residence to strategise on the ongoing political situation and thrashed out several options, including the possibility of mid-term polls and poaching 29 sitting legislators.
“Nearly 29 legislators, including 15 from the Congress and 14 from the NCP are in touch with us. Our political arithmetic says 21 of them can get elected. The options before us are whether to go for bypolls and get all of them to resign together in two batches or opt for mid-term polls in July,” said a senior BJP minister.
He said if the BJP could get 21 legislators on its own, the Sena would be neutralised completely until 2019.
The core group was divided between the options with chief minister Devendra Fadnavis in favour of mid-term polls, said sources. The party, high on the recent wins, estimates it could win 180 seats in the 288-member house.
The BJP has 123 legislators and has support of another 11 legislators. If it wins another 11 seats in the Assembly, they will get a clear majority in the legislature.
“They [Sena] continuously target us. For how long can we keep quiet? Currently, there has been no communication between us. Our leadership is not certain of their stance and there is concern over the NCP playing dirty. The core committee discussed various possible options. It doesn’t mean it can happen, but yes those alternatives are available,” said a senior BJP leader.
Meanwhile, the Opposition, after their rout in the recently concluded local polls, came together to announce a statewide ‘Sangharsh Yatra’ against the government by boycotting the Assembly. The decision comes a day after the state government suspended 19 Opposition legislators for creating a ruckus on the day of the budget.
All 83 opposition leaders will participate in the rally, which will start from Vidarbha and go through Mumbai to end at Panvel. In a call back to the old style of campaigning, small meetings, instead of big rallies, will be held with farmers along the route to increase the momentum on the issue.
“This kind of mass suspension of 19 legislators for raising the issue of loan waiver during the budget is unjust. We have been raising the issue of loan waiver from Day one and now it’s time to take it to people, as the government only wants to road roll on our demands and ignore the concerns of farmers,” Ashok Chavan, state president of Congress told HT, after a joint meeting of Opposition leaders.
Former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said, “There is a clear calculation behind the suspension of 19 legislators as the BJP is worried about the Sena voting against it in the budget and jeopardising stability of the government.”
This is the first time since the BJP romped to victory in the 2014 Assembly polls that the Congress and NCP have planned a state wide political initiative together.
There is little doubt that the BJP’s sustained winning streak in the state in local polls and Uttar Pradesh has nudged the Opposition into action with loan waiver as a ready issue to slam the state.
“We may have suffered defeat, but there is election in two years and it’s time to start. We want to tell people just how anti-farmer this government can be,” said NCP leader Jayant Patil.
The Opposition will hold another meeting on Friday morning to finalise the details of the protest.
So far, the ongoing budget session has been a washout, with the Opposition as well as ally-turned-rival Shiv Sena cornering the government on loan waiver.
What has complicated the issue for the ruling BJP is uncertainty over ally Sena’s stance, especially after the closely contested Mumbai civic polls.
Within the Sena there is confusion on how to walk the tightrope between being part of the government and playing the role of Opposition. “The confusion is only because the BJP does not take us into confidence before announcing their decisions. We were informed about suspension just before it was done. Our feedback was not taken before passing a vote on account,” said a Sena minister.
In house: govt pushes through business
Even as the Opposition remained firm on boycotting proceedings of the Assembly over suspension of their 19 MLAs, the government tried to push through the business on Thursday.
The debate on the budget was wrapped up abruptly, without allowing the MLAs to participate, and the appropriation bill to give approval for vote on account for routine expenditure was passed in a hurry.
The state invited the wrath of Sena for not allowing its MLAs to speak on the budget provisions for farmers in distress. Parliamentary affairs minister Girish Bapat said legislators will get an opportunity to speak during department-wise debate on the budget. Senior Sena legislators Jayprakash Mundada and Vijay Auti said the Sena MLAs wanted to discuss the plight of farmers and the allocation for them in the budget. The Sena later registered its protest with CM Devendra Fadnavis and speaker Haribhau Bagde. “The government may think of winding up the ongoing session by completing the remaining business next week, a week before its scheduled completion,” said a BJP minister. The legislative council was adjourned for the day.