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Friday, Nov 15, 2019

BJP-Shiv Sena deal: The unease after the compromise

Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray sought to justify the ‘tactical retreat’, saying he accepted the compromise because he wanted to be in power

mumbai Updated: Oct 08, 2019 00:13 IST
Shailesh Gaikwad
Shailesh Gaikwad
Hindustan Times
         

As expected, the BJP and Shiv Sena have worked out their seat-sharing pact for the Assembly election which is tilted in favour of the former. After continuously insisting that it would not settle for anything less than equal share, the Sena has now settled for 124 of the 288 seats, while the BJP will be contesting 164 seats with smaller allies.

Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray sought to justify the ‘tactical retreat’, saying he accepted the compromise because he wanted to be in power. Explaining the reasons why he settled for less than half the seats in an interview to party mouthpiece on Monday, he also said the number of legislators elected to the Assembly will be more. The highest number of seats won by the Sena in the past was 73 in 1995, when the saffron combine came to power in Maharashtra. In 2014, it won 63 seats. The Sena top brass is now aiming for 80-100, depending on the situation on ground and how the contest works out in constituencies across the state.

The seat-sharing pact has CM Devendra Fadnavis’s stamp of authority. He handled the negotiations with the Sena and ensured the pact worked out without much bitterness. The initial talk was that both the parties would share 135 seats each and the remaining 18 seats would be given to smaller allies of the BJP. Fadnavis and BJP leaders were clear they wanted to contest more than 150 seats, as the BJP aims to reach close to the 145 mark. In other words, it wants to win a simple majority on its own, though it wants to keep the Sena with it. This was not possible without contesting more than 150 seats. The final outcome that the Sena accepted includes 124 seats and promise of giving two seats in the legislative council from the BJP quota. So, the Sena will get 126 seats – exactly double of its current strength in the Assembly.

According to Sena insiders, the leadership accepted the deal because it seemed a better option in the current circumstances. Had it decided to part ways, like 2014, the Sena would have lost a chunk of its sitting MLAs to the BJP. Further, in a triangular fight with a really aggressive BJP on the one side and reunited Congress-NCP on the other, the party would have suffered. It could do well in 2014 because all four prominent parties contested separately and there was strong anti-incumbency against 15 years of Congress-NCP rule. Also, Thackeray did not want to take any chances in his son Aaditya’s debut election. It is important for Aaditya to be in position of power, so the party can build his image as a politician capable of running the state. It is only possible when the party is in power, say insiders.

So is everything hunky dory in the saffron alliance now? No. Under the silent compromise, there is unease. There have been some reports of friction as several Sena workers are contesting opposite BJP candidates. Then there is the issue of sharing power. “When the alliance was announced, it was said that power and responsibilities will be shared equally. It is an extremely important part. Once the government is formed on October 24, people will know. I’m confident about it,” Thackeray said in his Saamna interview.

It means he is expecting a better deal for the Sena that what he got in 2014.

Can Fadnavis do that with a limited number of cabinet slots and key portfolios that he will also have to share with his party colleagues and heavyweights imported from the Opposition? Will he give deputy chief ministership to Aaditya as is being widely believed? State BJP president Chandrakant Patil has categorically said there is no such plan. Things are going to get complicated if the BJP reaches close to the magic figure of 145 on its own.

Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see what message Uddhav Thackeray gives to Sainiks in his Dussehra rally on Wednesday.