Sena drives hard bargain, BJP open to negotiationsUpdated: Oct 26, 2019, 00:43 IST
Shiv Sena did not waste much time in putting pressure on the Bharatiya Janata Party soon after the state assembly election results were declared on Thursday, with some leaders publicly demanding the chief minister’s post to party leader Aaditya Thackeray in addition to key cabinet posts. On Friday, the Uddhav Thackeray-led Sena reiterated the ‘50:50 formula’ the two parties had arrived at before this year’s Lok Sabha polls.
Senior Sena leader and minister in the outgoing government Eknath Shinde said, “Aadityaji decided to take the plunge in electoral politics and has been successful. It is natural that the Sena workers and leaders would want to see a Thackeray on a big post. There is nothing wrong with that expectation.”
In response, BJP’s top leaders in the state said an agreement “acceptable to both” would be worked out after Diwali, and the saffron combine would most likely stake claim to form the government in the first week of November. “This mandate is for the saffron alliance. So, we will form the next government,” said chief minister Devendra Fadnavis late on Friday evening. “We can work out an agreement between us.” The BJP-Sena alliance has until November 8 to form the government.
Fadnavis and Thackeray are likely to work out a power-sharing agreement through informal parleys, followed by a formal meeting to endorse the decision like they did ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The BJP may call a meeting of its newly-elected legislators on October 30 or 31 to finalise a party leader for the next tenure – a formality given that Prime Minister Narendra Modi endorsed Fadnavis for a second term.
Sources at the Sena headquarters told HT that the party plans to ask for a repeat of the 1995 saffron alliance formula, if the BJP does not share the chief minister’s post. Back then, the BJP was the smaller party (65 seats versus the Sena’s 73) and it was given the deputy chief minister’s post, along with three significant portfolios – home, finance and irrigation.
A senior BJP leader, who is in the party’s negotiating team, said the BJP is unwilling to share the chief minister’s post, but will offer the deputy chief minister’s post and a few key departments. “The 1995 formula cannot be the basis for 2019 as the difference in seats (BJP’s 105 to Sena’s 56) is significant,” he said.
In an interview to HT on October 18, Fadnavis had said he is willing to give the deputy chief minister’s post to the Sena.
On Friday, Fadnavis told HT, “This mandate is for both BJP and Shiv Sena. We will consider their demands and work out an agreement.”
Fadnavis held a late-night meeting on Thursday with senior party leaders, including state president Chandrakant Patil, to assess the post-poll scenario. On Friday, he met MLAs from smaller parties and independents. Overall, 13 independents and 16 others from smaller parties including Bahujan Vikas Aghadi, Jan Surajya Party, and Samajwadi Party have been elected to the state assembly. BJP leaders said that, of these 29 legislators, 17-18 will support their government. “They will give us their letters of support,” a senior party functionary told HT. Even if BJP is supported by these 17-18 legislators, it cannot reach the halfway mark, and it will need Sena’s backing to form the next government.
The Sena knows this. On Friday, an editorial in the party mouthpiece Saamana was headlined, “The keys to power are with the Shiv Sena.”
Uddhav Thackeray has convened a meeting of legislators on Saturday afternoon to finalise the party’s stance over the next few days. On Friday, some Sena legislators met Thackeray at his residence, and demanded that the party should stake its claim on the chief minister post. Sanjay Potnis, Sena legislator from Kalina in Mumbai, was one of them. “The keys to power are with us, unlike in the past when it was one-sided. We will discuss the CM post and other key issues in the meeting [on Saturday].”
A Sena MP said that once the formal discussion commences with the BJP’s central leadership the Sena will bring up the chief minister’s post. “Of course, it [CM post] is on the cards; why shouldn’t we keep it. If they (BJP) can give Mehbooba Muftis the CM’s post [in Jammu & Kashmir] why can’t they share the post with us? We are their natural allies,” he said.
Political analysts said that though Thackeray is putting pressure on the BJP for the chief minister’s post, he could settle for less as the Sena is unlikely to go with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party. “Besides, the Sena’s number of seats has also come down from 63 MLAs in 2014 to 56 in 2019,” said analyst Surendra Jondhale. “Thackeray may put pressure on the BJP for deputy chief minister’s post and key portfolios, but he will be mindful that BJP won’t let go of the CM’s post.”