The decision of the alliance between the BJP and the Shiv Sena for the civic elections seems to be in the hands of chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. After two initial rounds of discussions, seat-sharing talks between the two parties came to a grinding halt on Friday withboth sides blaming each other for the same.
Sources said both the parties were finding it difficult to work out an acceptable seat-sharing arrangement in Mumbai — the BJP wants more than 100 out of 227 seats, while the Sena is unwilling to part with more than 50 seats from the 167 it contested the last time. With the deadline set by the BJP to finalise the seat-sharing coming to an end on Saturday, the decision for the same is in the hands of Fadnavis and Thackeray. “If the two of them want an alliance, we will work out a pact. Else, both sides are preparing to go solo,” said a source close to the developments.
Although the public bickering was over other issues, sources from both sides said the bone of contention is how many seats the Sena should concede to the BJP. In 2012, the Mumbai civic polls, the Sena had contested 164 seats, while the BJP had fielded its candidates for 63 seats. Following the 2014 Assembly polls, when the BJP won 15 out of 36 seats while fighting solo, the party is confident that it can win far more than the 31 seats it won in 2012. It wants to contest 100-105 seats, which the Sena has refused to agree to. “Climbing down from 164 seats that we contested earlier to 115-120 is difficult for us. If both sides stick to their stands, it is difficult to forge an alliance in Mumbai,” said a key Sena leader.
Sources said a workable solution was possible if the Sena leaves 85 to 90 seats to the BJP and contests 135 to 140 seats. However, such a solution can be worked out only by Fadnavis and Thackeray. Even that is not easy because the two sides will have to agree on which additional seats the Sena should be giving to the BJP. “The BJP has even staked claim on certain seats where we have sitting corporators. It is difficult to reach a consensus,” said the Sena leader.
Throughout the day, the two parties publicly squabbled and put pressure on each other so that the other side budges. Negotiators from both sides were supposed to meet on Friday, but that meeting had not taken place until late in the evening.
Earlier in the day, negotiators from the Sena abruptly decided not to engage in any further conversation with the BJP leaders. Saying they were put off by comments by BJP Member of Parliament (MP) Kirit Somaiya and city BJP president Ashish Shelar, Sena leaders in charge of hammering out a deal for their party have decided to leave further decision-making to Thackeray.
Irked by the Sena’s response, which ignores the string of criticism that the party itself launched against the BJP in its mouthpiece publication, Saamana, BJP leaders said the Sena should be upfront about its issues. They, however, maintained they were open to an alliance in the city’s interest, saying Fadnavis will take a call on the alliance talks after discussions with Thackeray.
State education minister Vinod Tawde, a senior BJP leader, said, “Ideally one can ignore what both Sanjay Raut [editor of Saamana] and Somaiya have spoken. The Sena should be open and candid. If they think that the alliance is in the interest of the city, then we should continue with the talks. We are clear that in the interest of Mumbai, the alliance should take shape to keep the Congress out. Sena leaders have never been so two-faced in their communication.”
While leaders at the ground level from both parties prefer going their separate ways, the top leadership of the Sena as well as the BJP has been keen on an alliance to ensure a comfortable victory, as the two parties would otherwise be each other’s biggest threats.
The impasse over Mumbai has even affected the possibility of a BJP-Sena tie-up in other cities as well as district council elections. The situation is similar in the case of other cities where the two parties want to come together — Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad and Nashik.
“We expected some sort of solution by the two top leaders from both the sides in a day or two,” said the BJP source. However, even if the two parties reach any decision, it may not be disclosed immediately and could be closer to January 27 when the nominations for the civic polls begin.
Friday witnessed drama with both sides training guns on each other.
Speaking to Marathi television channel IBN Lokmat on Thursday, Somaiya had questioned the large writ of the Thackeray family on the city and the civic body, and called for putting an end to mafia raj in the BMC.
Anil Parab, a Sena leader negotiating with the BJP, said, “We have told our party chief we cannot tolerate allegations against him. We are his Sainiks after all. We are appealing to the chief minister now to make his stand clear on whether he wants an alliance and see to it that BJP leaders do not make such statements. Once we get a clarification from the chief minister, our party chief will decide on whether to resume seat sharing talks.”
Besides Parab, Sena leaders Anil Desai and Ravindra Mirlekar were in charge of seat-sharing talks from the Sena’s side. The BJP was represented by ministers Vinod Tawde and Prakash Mehta, state chief Raosaheb Danve and city president Ashish Shelar.
While Sena leaders are peeved with Somaiya’s remarks, the party has itself been launching offensives against the BJP daily in Saamana. It recently said the demonetisation move was like a nuclear attack that has turned the country into Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On Friday, it took another jibe at the BJP, taunting it for inducting people with criminal records.
Parab said, “We clarify our stand on various issues in Saamana. We have never made corruption allegations against any particular leader. There are several BJP cabinet ministers facing corruption allegations. If at all we have to start on a transparent administration, we should start from the three leaders who have come forward (for negotiations) because all three are facing corruption charges.”
Tawde said, “If they [Sena leaders] had an issue with our team, it should have been communicated to us right at the beginning. Why the sudden realisation? The fact remains that the BJP is represented by senior leaders, including our state president, two ministers and our city unit chief, while the Sena has sent some junior leaders including one Member of Parliament, one deputy leader and a former legislator.”
The Sena and BJP started seat-sharing discussions on Monday, and after two initial rounds of meetings, decided to exchange their wish-lists of wards and meet for further discussion post that, but Friday’s verbal crossfire halted the progress.