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Tuesday, Dec 10, 2019

With Shiv Sena or without? BJP’s dilemma in Maharashtra | Opinion

While forging an alliance with the Shiv Sena for the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had promised that the two parties would contest equal number of seats in the state assembly elections to be held later this year.

opinion Updated: Aug 28, 2019 23:35 IST
Shailesh Gaikwad
Shailesh Gaikwad
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
The BJP is  confident of crossing the half-way mark in Maharashtra on its own and therefore not very keen to leave half the assembly seats for ally Shiv Sena for the upcoming state election.
The BJP is confident of crossing the half-way mark in Maharashtra on its own and therefore not very keen to leave half the assembly seats for ally Shiv Sena for the upcoming state election.(PTI)
         

Ahead of the assembly elections, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is facing a dilemma in Maharashtra: Whether to contest in an alliance with Shiv Sena and keep the word it gave to its ally or to contest on its own?

While forging an alliance with the Sena for the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had promised that the two parties would contest equal number of seats in the state assembly elections to be held later this year.

Post Lok Sabha elections, in which the party returned to power with a thumping majority, BJP is now confident of crossing the half-way mark in Maharashtra on its own and therefore not very keen to leave half the assembly seats for ally Shiv Sena. BJP had won 122 out of 288 seats in 2014 assembly elections, and this time, its top leaders say, they can win the 145 seats needed for a simple majority on its own. State BJP president Chandrakant Patil has in fact gone on record to say that the 50:50 seat-sharing formula doesn’t make sense for the assembly elections.

There was no such dilemma in 2014, when BJP contested the assembly elections alone after failing to reach an agreement with Shiv Sena. The calculated risk paid dividends as the party emerged victorious on 122 seats, its highest ever tally in Maharashtra assembly, and wrested power from Congress-NCP.

Things are different this time. The party has already promised the Sena that it would share the seats equally. A public announcement was also made to this effect following a meeting between BJP chief Amit Shah and Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray in Mumbai before the Lok Sabha elections.

It was pre-Pulwama period and the BJP leadership in the state felt they needed the security of an alliance with Sena. The Lok Sabha elections saw BJP return to power with even more seats. It almost repeated its performance in Maharashtra. The two parties together, led in at least 230 out of 288 assembly segments (one Lok Sabha constituency is made of six assembly segments).

While there is moral pressure on the party to respect the promise it made when it needed Sena to come on board for Lok Sabha elections, the changed situation now has led to calls for little fine tuning of the pact.

The BJP leaders in the state now think they can win 150 to 160 seats on their own if they contest on 180 to 200 seats. However, the promise to share seats equally with Sena will make that outcome impossible. The two parties, according to the agreement, are expected to contest 135 to 140 seats each, as 10-15 seats may be left for the smaller allies.

According to BJP insiders, efforts are on to work out some formula that gives the party a slightly larger share of seats. In 2014 assembly polls, the BJP won 122, while the Sena won 63 seats. The two sides want to retain these seats and therefore the talks to hammer out a new formula are expected to be restricted to the remaining 103 seats, won last time by opposition parties, some small parties that are neutral and Independents. More than a dozen MLAs representing these seats have already joined either the BJP or the Sena and some others are on their way. The BJP’s negotiators are also staking claim on the seats where BJP was the runner up in 2014 elections. They are looking at persuading Sena to be satisfied with contesting 120-125 seats, double the number it won in 2014.

The Sena so far is not convinced. On Wednesday, Thackeray reiterated his stand that the formula decided before Lok Sabha election should be respected.

Less than two months before the elections are held, the BJP remains caught in this dilemma. A formal announcement on seat sharing will only be made once the two parties work out a solution. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is keen on making the announcement on September 1, the day his statewide tour, Maha Janadesh Yatra, ends in presence of party chief Amit Shah. His success or failure to work out an amicable formula will accordingly impact the outcome of the election.