In a move that could put Shiv Sena on the backfoot, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has warned the mercurial ally to mend its ways and stop publicly embarrassing the BJP, or be ready to face consequences, which could even mean parting ways.
Fadnavis is believed to have made it clear that if push comes to shove, the BJP will not hesitate to take support from the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to keep the BJP in power in Maharashtra.
According to sources, Fadnavis warned the Sena, when he along with senior BJP ministers Chandrakant Patil and Vinod Tawde met senior Sena ministers Subhash Desai and Diwakar Raote on Thursday, a day before election of the legislative council chairman.
Despite being in the government at Centre and in the state, the Sena has continuously targeted the BJP over several issues. It strongly opposed the Centre’s land acquisition bill, the controversial development plan (DP) of Mumbai, the Metro-3 project alignment, Jaitapur nuclear plant, LED lights at Marine Drive, and even slammed the state government over farmers’ suicides.
The Sena has been on the offensive since the BJP lost the Delhi Assembly elections. Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray had even questioned the existence of “Modi wave” after the Delhi debacle.
“Fadnavis told them [BJP leaders] that if they are in the government, then they should work in coordination. If the attacks continue, the BJP will counter them publicly, and if Sena pulls out, the BJP won't hesitate to take the NCP's help, which the latter had anyways offered before the government was formed,” a senior BJP minister told HT.
The direct fallout of Thursday’s meeting was evident on Friday, when Sena withdrew the nomination of Neelam Gorhe for the election to the post of chairman of legislative council. NCP’s Ramraje Naik Nimbalkar was elected unanimously. Shiv Sena leader and state environment minister Ramdas Kadam had slammed the BJP for backing the no-confidence motion against former chairman Shivajirao Deshmukh of Congress, and indirectly supporting the NCP.
Sena spokesperson Neelam Gorhe said on Saturday that Fadnavis has assured them that the BJP will be with the Sena even in the future. “Uddhavji told me of an exchange of phone calls that happened between him and Fadnavis. The CM has assured him that the BJP will stay with us now and in the future. He has also said that we should work together with each other,” said Gorhe.
However, despite repeated attempts, Desai and Raote, who attended Thursday’s meeting, were unavailable for comment.
The Sena has also asked the BJP to grant their party the deputy speakers’ post in the Assembly, which is vacant. The BJP might grant the demand, if Sena mends its ways.
“Fadnavis’ warning comes after a signal from the top leadership. Things started changing after Prime Minister Modi visited Baramati and publicly appreciated Sharad Pawar. In the Parliament, the NCP has been cordial to the BJP,” said another BJP minister. “The election for chairman’s post in the legislative council was a test case. Although we openly helped NCP, there were not many protests from our supporters, as after the trust vote. This means things can change in future if we want them to.”
Meanwhile, to keep the Sena in check, the BJP, too, has started countering its ally aggressively in past couple of days. State power minister Chandrashekhar Bawankule has openly supported Jaitapur nuclear plant and Fadnavis himself rubbished the Sena's allegation of a scam in the LED lights contract. On Saturday, Fadnavis even tweeted: “Some vested interests are running a malafide campaign against the government”.