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Maharashtra: Saffron allies see red, barbs fly day after polls deal

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena may have announced a pre-poll alliance for the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, but friction between the two parties is far from over

mumbai Updated: Feb 20, 2019 08:37 IST
Ketaki Ghoge
Ketaki Ghoge
Hindustan Times
Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray and BJP chief Amit Shah after announcing an alliance between their parties for the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls, on February 18.(Vijayanand Gupta/HT Photo)

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena may have announced a pre-poll alliance for the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, but friction between the two parties is far from over. The seat-sharing and power-sharing agreements are set to be the biggest bones of contention between the parties, with tussles likely to escalate – especially ahead of the Assembly polls scheduled to be held in October.

The Shiv Sena mouthpiece, Saamana, fired the first salvo on Tuesday, a day after the alliance was sealed, with an editorial that hinted “a fresh start” does not mean the party will stop criticising the government.

The editorial, which is seen as Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s opinion, cautioned the government that “riots and terror attacks should not been used for political gains”, and slammed it for “an intelligence failure” in context of the Pulwama terror attack, in which 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawans were killed.

Besides the verbal volleys, the alliance already seems to have sailed into choppy waters in at least two Lok Sabha seats – Jalna and north-east Mumbai.

In Jalna, Sena minister Arjun Khotkar refused to back off from his stance to contest against sitting BJP MP Raosaheb Danve, who is also the party’s state unit president.

“I have been preparing for the Lok Sabha battle against Danve for two years now,” said Khotkar. “It’s a seat I can win even if I contest as an independent. I will talk to my party chief and request that Jalna seat be given to Sena or allow a friendly contest on it.”

Similarly, the Sena cadre has already raised red flags against Kirit Somaiya, sitting BJP MP from the north-east Mumbai constituency. Sena workers have refused to campaign or work for Somaiya, citing his insult of the Thackerays, calling them “mafia raj” during the 2017 Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls.

Leaders from both parties admitted that while the alliance has a better chance in the Lok Sabha polls, which are scheduled to be held in a few months, the real trouble will begin ahead of the Assembly elections.

In the 288-member Assembly, BJP and Sena plan to contest 140 seats each, giving eight seats to their smaller allies. Workers from both parties, however, view this as an “unfair deal”. Reasons: The Sena wanted to be seen as a ‘big brother’ in the alliance, while the BJP feels they have an upper hand as they won 122 seats in 2014 as against Sena’s 63.

The seat distribution, too, is set to pose a challenge in several urban constituencies, where the allies are the main rivals. For instance, in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), in as many as 26 seats, the main contest in 2014 was between BJP and Sena, with the winning margins in as many as 10 seats less than 5,000 votes.

While the rule of thumb is that the party that has won the seat keeps it, Sena is likely to demand some of the seats, just like they have staked claim to the Palghar Lok Sabha seat.

“Seat distribution is going to be difficult in the Assembly polls. If we are given seats where the Opposition won, even during the Modi wave, then it doesn’t work for us,” said a Sena leader, who did not wish to be named. “Some of BJP’s seats will have to be given to us, as in the absence of a Modi wave, we will have better chances of winning.”

The BJP, on the other hand, is likely to play hardball. In exchange of the Palghar Lok Sabha constituency, the party may ask for Sena’s Assembly seat in the area to rehabilitate its sitting MP, Rajendra Gavit.

Meanwhile, the power-sharing agreement between the parties is likely to spell more trouble. While Sena had demanded sharing the chief minister’s post during the five-year tenure, there has been no decision made on it. The parties have agreed to split portfolios equally. While Sena leaders said equal sharing of posts includes the chief ministership too, BJP leaders claim that the agreement refers to handing over deputy chief minister’s post to the Sena, a formula the parties had agree upon in the 1995 elections.

“Ultimately, seat tally in the polls will decide whether Sena can lay claim to even deputy chief minister’s post, let alone the chief minister’s post. While Sena had demanded it, BJP top brass did not explicitly accept it,” said a BJP legislator, who did not wish to be named. “It has been kept hanging… Forget Assembly poll results, if we get a clear majority in the Lok Sabha elections, this power-sharing agreement will not stand.”

A BJP minister, on the condition of anonymity, said the chief ministership issue was not sorted on Monday, with party president Amit Shah deciding that CM Devendra Fadnavis would take the “right decision at the right time”.

First Published: Feb 20, 2019 00:24 IST