In a sign that the Shiv Sena is unwilling to give in easily and offer its unconditional support to the BJP in the upcoming presidential election in July, party MP Sanjay Raut has said any such discussion would have to be done at party chief Uddhav Thackeray’s residence, Matoshree, in Bandra (East) locality of Mumbai.
Raut’s statement on Monday comes in the wake of reports that Thackeray had been invited for a dinner meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with other National Democratic Alliance (NDA) constituents to discuss the presidential polls.
“The Sena chief has not received any such formal invite.. all this talk of dinner meetings is being done through the media. If there has to be any discussion on the Sena’s support for the next presidential candidate then such a meeting will have to be held only in Matoshree,’’ said Raut, also the editor of Sena mouthpiece Saamna. Top BJP sources in the state, however, said there has been no communication from their side with the Sena on the issue of the presidential election so far.
The reason the Sena can flex its muscles despite the BJP’s victory in Uttar Pradesh is that with its 18 MPs and 63 MLAs, the party has 25,893 votes in its kitty for the election. The electoral college for the presidential election includes 708 points for every MP and 175 points for every MLA from Maharashtra.
The Sena’s votes are crucial for the BJP to get its candidate elected as president even though the BJP — post the Uttar Pradesh polls — has increased its vote share in the presidential electoral college in a big way. The NDA is short of reaching the half way mark by around 24,522 votes and would need help from non-UPA parties to make up for this shortfall. In this light, it cannot afford to lose one of its allies’ vote points.
Further, the Sena, in the recent past, has twice voted in favour of the Congress’ Presidential candidate, including incumbent President Pranab Mukherjee and former President Pratibha Patil, even while it was a part of the NDA.
Given that the current state of saffron alliance in Maharashtra is in near tatters and its relation with the BJP top brass choppy, the Sena wants to play hardball.
“If they want our support, they will have to send someone senior from Delhi to hold talks with our party chief. We have been treated shoddily by the BJP throughout this tenure. What is a better indicator than the fact that we have 18 MPs, but were given only one post in the council of ministers at the Centre ?’’ said a senior Sena leader.
“The Sena chief has not received any such formal invite.. all this talk of dinner meetings is being done through the media. If there has to be any discussion on the Sena’s support for the next presidential candidate then such a meeting will have to be held only in Matoshree.” --- Sanjay Raut
While the Sena shares power in the state,the relations between the allies have only worsened since the BJP took over in the state in 2014. The situation reached a break point during the Mumbai civic polls.
The BJP has not reacted to Raut’s remarks. Just last week, the state BJP’s core committee had discussed possibility of going for mid term polls or inducting 29 legislators from other parties and getting them elected in by polls to neutralize Sena’s nuisance in the state legislature.
However, now with the Presidential elections slated in July, it remains to be seen if it chooses to mollify the Sena or finds a way to deal with the situation. Given that this could be the party’s last bargaining chance ahead of 2019 assembly polls, Sena is likely to play hardball.
Realising that its timing was wrong, the state BJP tried to make up for this (discussion of mid term polls) a day later by saying it would send its senior ministers to call on Sena chief on the occasion of Gudi Padwa, Maharashtrian New Year. There was also buzz from BJP quarters that Modi had casually asked Thackeray to come over and meet him when the latter had called the PM to congratulate him over post UP polls victory.
However, following Raut’s statement, it seemed unlikely revenue minister Chandrakant Patil and finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, would call on Thackeray. Both the ministers are scheduled to be in their respective constituencies until late on Tuesday evening. Patil, in a jibe while speaking to media, said that since relations between the allies have never been better, there was no reason to call on Thackeray.