It has been a fortnight since the two ruling partners, Shiv Sena and BJP, have been trying to work out an alliance for the Mumbai civic polls, which are crucial for both the parties. Like most election alliance talks, the bone of contention is sharing of seats. It includes the number of seats each of the two parties will contest and the claims staked by both sides on certain wards or constituencies.
The drama may go on for a few more days before a decision is taken to forge an alliance or go separate ways. But then, this is hardly surprising. In the world of politics, negotiations have always been a tricky business, especially seat-sharing negotiations. It is considered a skilled job in political circles. They begin with making unrealistic claims with an intention to force the alliance partner to participate in tough negotiations. Posturing is a key element and often parties use it to put pressure on each other to give up claims on certain seats or certain numbers.
Since politics in Maharashtra has been dominated by two alliances for past two decades—BJP and Shiv Sena as well as Congress and Nationalist Congress Party—we have seen such negotiations and bargaining at almost every major election. Among the two alliances, it is the BJP-Shiv Sena combine that has more experience of such negotiations since 1989 when they came together. Since then, every assembly and Mumbai civic elections would see bickering between the allies over seat-sharing. Shiv Sena used to assert its position of a big brother and BJP used to skillfully increase its share with each elections.
Till the 2004 elections, the final word on the alliance used to be from Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray and senior BJP leader Pramod Mahajan. In fact, Mahajan was known for his skills to convince senior Thackeray to get a good deal for the BJP. Though some BJP leaders in the state used to opine that the BJP was not being able to expand its base due to the constraints of an alliance, nobody challenged Mahajan openly. During this period, too, there certain occasions when the relations were stretched to the extent of snapping ties, but mostly, the partners stuck to each other. (The two parties contested Mumbai civic polls separately too but stuck together in Lok Sabha and assembly elections). Thackeray would ensure that the Shiv Sena retained its upper hand. Things changed in 2014 when BJP won Lok Sabha with a landslide victory and both Thackeray and Mahajan were no more to salvage the alliance. The party’s reins were in the hands of PM Modi and party chief Amit Shah. The duo has been particular about the growth of the party in Maharashtra and also winning power in the civic body that governs India’s financial capital. Which is why the two parties have been finding it tough to work out an alliance for the Mumbai civic polls.
On the other hand, the Congress-NCP alliance is not getting much attention since the two parties are not in power now. However, since 1999, both the parties saw negotiations while forming the government or contesting 2004 and 2009 elections. NCP chief Sharad Pawar is known as a master negotiator in political circles. It reflected in 1999 when the two parties were forced to come together after contesting separately. Pawar ensured that NCP bargained well and got the majority of key departments of the state government in exchange of chief ministership. They included influential and politically important departments such as home, finance, irrigation, public works, rural development and energy.
And all these departments stayed with the NCP till the two parties remained in an alliance. After the 2004 assembly elections when NCP won two assembly seats more than the Congress, he let the latter take the chief ministership but ensured that he had more ministers in the cabinet than the Congress. Often Congress leaders used to complain about NCP getting more than what they deserved but they could do little because the former used to negotiate well. In the current circumstances, the two parties have not worked out an alliance but if they had, there were chances of a hard bargain by the two parties.
After all, politics is always about posturing and maintaining an upper hand over your rivals and friends.