When the BJP underestimates Uddhav ThackerayUpdated: Nov 05, 2019 00:17 IST
The suspense over the formation of the next government in Maharashtra is far from over. It’s been 12 days since the verdict of the Assembly elections is out. What looked like a clear victory for the saffron combine has turned into a daily soap, with the ruling allies locked in a bitter power tussle and the Opposition parties looking for a chance to keep the BJP out of power.
On the day of the verdict, when it became clear that the BJP was getting less than 122 seats it had in the previous assembly, there were indications that the Shiv Sena would drive a hard bargain for formation of the government. However, nobody in the BJP camp had expected that the situation would come to a stage where, even 12 days after the verdict, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray would keep them guessing. So did they underestimate Thackeray’s strategy?
The BJP and Shiv Sena have been in alliance for about three decades and have contested six Assembly elections together. As such, the BJP leaders have a clear idea of how to hold negotiations with the Sena. They were expecting a bit of bargaining that would finally see the Sena leadership accepting a deal with incremental benefit, as the latter didn’t have any option but to go with the BJP. In fact, that has been their experience over the past few years.
What they did not take into account was that Uddhav Thackeray was still unhappy over the way he was given a raw deal while joining the governments at the Centre after the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections as well as the Devendra Fadnavis government in the state after the 2014 Assembly elections. In successive NDA governments, the Sena was given the heavy industries ministry, which the party top brass thought was not a significant one. As it joined the Fadnavis government in Maharashtra after initially sitting in the Opposition, the Sena was again made to accept less significant portfolios, while all key portfolios such as home, finance, revenue, irrigation, cooperation and public works remained with the BJP.
Little wonder, Thackeray saw an opportunity for a hard bargain as the October 24 results showed that the BJP alone could not reach the magic figure of 145 needed for a simple majority in the Assembly. The BJP won 105 seats and even if it managed to get support from most of the 29 independents and smaller parties, it would not reach 135. The arithmetic in the Assembly didn’t leave any option for the BJP except sharing power with the Sena. The Sena leadership grabbed this opportunity and insisted on the now famous ‘50:50’ power-sharing formula.
The BJP’s initial reaction to the Sena’s threat was to ignore the latter. Even as Sena leader Sanjay Raut kept insisting on equal power-sharing, the BJP leaders considered it a pressure tactic. It was only after a meeting was held between Congress leaders and Pawar that the BJP realised that Thackeray was not merely putting pressure on them, but tapping possibilities. Although strategists in the state BJP are insisting that the Sena, with its Hindu hardline agenda, is unlikely to go with Congress, they are wary that the response from the ally is not on expected lines.
Following Fadnavis’s remarks on October 29 that the BJP had never promised to share chief ministership, an irked Thackeray stopped all formal and informal communications with the BJP. Further, he sent feelers to both the NCP and Congress which led to the Sharad Pawar-Sonia Gandhi meeting on Monday in New Delhi, creating unease in the BJP camp.
Top BJP leaders in the state are confident that the Sena will be on board in the next couple of days. Quitting the NDA would be a big decision for Thackeray and he would not do so, they insist. Significantly, the Sena top brass, too, is guessing what their chief is up to. “We had expected some hard bargaining, but the way Uddhavji has kept the BJP guessing is unexpected. We have a feeling that things will be sorted soon, but the next couple of days could be crucial,” said a close Thackeray aide.