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Shiv Sena eyes hard bargain as talks with BJP begin

The Sena-BJP alliance fell apart in the assembly elections held later in 2014, after the BJP refused to accept the Shiv Sena as the senior partner in the state.

india Updated: Dec 27, 2018 07:51 IST
Ketaki Ghoge and Kumar Uttam
Ketaki Ghoge and Kumar Uttam
Mumbai/New Delhi
BJP,Shiv Sena,alliance
The BJP and Shiv Sena came together after the election to form the government in Maharashtra, but the relationship has remained strained. (HT File Photo)

The Shiv Sena, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s fractious ally in Maharashtra, has hinted to the latter that it expects at least half the Lok Sabha and assembly seats in the state if the partnership between the two is to continue, leaders familiar with informal negotiations between the two parties said. The Sena has also informed the BJP about its preference for simultaneous polls, but this is not the main demand in the seat-sharing pact as of now.

The BJP contested 24 Lok Sabha seats and the Sena 20 in the previous Lok Sabha elections. Four seats went to other allies, the Swabhimani Paksha of Raju Shetty, the Republican Party of India of Ram Das Athawale and the Rashtriya Samaj Paksha of Mahadev Jankar. The state has 48 Lok Sabha seats.

The Sena-BJP alliance fell apart in the assembly elections held later in 2014, after the BJP refused to accept the Sena as the senior partner in the state. They fought separately and the BJP fielded candidates in 260 out of 288 assembly seats; the Sena contested 282 seats. The former won 122 and the latter 63.

The two parties came together after the election to form the government in Maharashtra, but the relationship has remained strained.

In the subsequent local body elections, the parties contested separately and the BJP dominated the local polls, winning 15 out of the 27 big city corporations in the state. The Sena retained control of Mumbai, but managed to win just two more seats than the BJP in the city.

Since then, the Sena and the BJP haven’t been on the best of terms. Indeed, relations between Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray are believed to be cold.

The Sena announced in January that it would go solo in the next Lok Sabha and state elections, and has since then built pressure on the BJP on issues such as the Ram temple and demonetisation.

Both Fadnavis and BJP president Amit Shah have sought to bring the relationship back on track, and ignored the Sena’s provocations.

“There have been some ‘informal’ talks between the two sides,” a BJP leader in Delhi said on condition of anonymity. “After reports that Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party of Sharad Pawar will come together, both the BJP and the Sena realise they may stay together.”

BJP chief Shah, the leader added, had met Sena chief Thackeray in Mumbai on June 6 with a clear intention for the two parties to stay together.

The BJP leader claimed that the party leadership, which just clinched a deal with allies in Bihar, will turn to Maharashtra now and that the first round of formal talks is likely to take place after the current Parliament session ends on January 8.

Analysts say the Sena has sensed an opportunity after the BJP’s losses in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. The success of Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) in getting as many seats to contest in Bihar as the BJP and the Lok Janshakti Party’s Ram Vilas Paswan in getting a good deal in the same state may have emboldened the Sena.

The BJP leader added that Fadnavis and Thackeray are communicating directly to decide the shape of a possible alliance.

The Sena continues to insist on state polls being held at the same time as the Lok Sabha election, according to a Sena leader who asked not to be named. And the party wants more seats than the BJP, this person added.

A BJP minister in Maharashtra said on condition of anonymity that Fadnavis is not keen on simultaneous polls and has indicated as much to the party’s top brass. He has pointed out that he would like to concentrate on winning as many Lok Sabha seats as he can for the party from Maharashtra. He is keen on the alliance though and is believed to have told BJP legislators during a meeting at his residence on December 19 that he is confident that an alliance will happen.

The minister added that the BJP may be willing to seek middle ground and seal its seat sharing pact for the assembly polls along with that for the Lok Sabha, even signing an agreement on this.

While the Sena may initially seek 155 seats as a bargaining tactic, a second senior Sena leader who is also an aide of Thackeray said that the party may settle for an equal seat sharing formula of 144 seats each for the two partners.

“We want an equal seat sharing formula in Lok Sabha (24:24 seats) and assembly polls (144:144). We are prepared to settle for 144 seats in assembly polls but we will not leave some of these seats for smaller allies. The BJP can allot some seats out of its quota for others,” added this person.

First Published: Dec 26, 2018 23:37 IST