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Thursday, Sep 19, 2019

To (plan) B or not to B: Allies Sena, BJP face solo election trip dilemma

The seat-sharing negotiations for the Assembly polls are likely to be complicated, given the saffron allies had contested the polls separately in 2014 state polls.

mumbai Updated: Aug 22, 2019 06:56 IST
Ketaki Ghoge
Ketaki Ghoge
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray speaks to media.
Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray speaks to media. (ANI Photo)

While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena have announced an alliance for the upcoming Assembly polls in October, the saffron parties have been busy taking on Opposition leaders and local strongmen to fortify their party position and improve their bargaining chips.

The seat-sharing negotiations for the Assembly polls are likely to be complicated, given the saffron allies had contested the polls separately in 2014 state polls. As such, this competition to poach the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leaders has led to speculation that the saffron allies may be preparing for a plan B to contest solo if the seat-sharing negotiations fail. In 2014, the talks failed just days ahead of the elections.

The season of defections that began earlier this month saw several heavyweights from NCP namely Ganesh Naik, Madhukar Pichad, Sachin Ahir, Jaydutt Kshirsagar, besides NCP MLAs Shivendra Bhosale, Vaibhav Pichad, Pandurang Warora, and Congress MLAs Kalidas Kolambkar, Nirmala Gavit, join the BJP and Sena. Several other senior Congressmen and legislators are said to be in the wings to join the saffron allies.

The speculation of plan B has also gained ground because a section within the BJP including Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis feels that the party can win the polls solo. A top state BJP leader told HT that an internal survey done by the BJP had revealed that it can win up to 160 of the 288 seats in the Assembly polls, if they contested solo. (In Maharashtra, a party needs to win 145 to get simple majority to form government). If the BJP contests with Sena, the internal party estimate is they can improve their 2014 tally from 122 to 130-135 seats, but the Sena can improve its tally from 63 to 90-100 seats. The party’s second-rung leadership is wary of giving such an advantage to the Sena.

However, Fadnavis as well as party top brass is in favour of the alliance. In an interview to HT earlier this month the chief minister said the BJP will not change rules of engagement or go back on the alliance because circumstances have changed. He had indicated the seat-sharing agreement may get formalised by month-end. On the other hand, the Shiv Sena has been systematically admitting influential leaders from areas and constituencies where winning could be difficult for the party.

However, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray refuted speculations that the party is preparing to go solo . He said, “The Sena and BJP are in an alliance, and the inductions are happening based on our understanding.”

But, things could change in the days ahead especially if allies start picking up Opposition leaders from seats that belong to their ally. The BJP is also not keen on a 50:50 seat sharing agreement and that may upset the Sena.

“The top leadership has signalled that we should not court controversy with a Hindutva ally like Sena ahead of polls. But we want the seat-sharing to be done on our terms. We will continue to be the big brother in Maharashtra and Sena needs to accept it. Even if we contest equal number of seats, we know the Sena can’t win 130 seats,’’ said a BJP minister. The plan B to contest solo, he added, was if Sena was adamant or created unnecessary trouble during negotiations.

Inputs by Swapnil Rawal

First Published: Aug 22, 2019 00:01 IST