A day after Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced that the BJP would not contest the mayoral polls for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), it has emerged that back-channel negotiations between leaders of both parties took place over three days before the logjam was resolved following the hung verdict. Sources in both parties said discussions were held between three leaders each from the Sena and the BJP through informal telephone conversations. The Sena leaders included PWD Minister Eknath Shinde, MP Anil Desai and Sena president Uddhav Thackeray’s personal secretary Milind Narvekar. They spoke to Fadnavis and senior BJP ministers Sudhir Mungantiwar and Chandrakant Patil. With the Sena winning 84 wards in the BMC polls and the BJP 82, neither could have crossed the halfway mark without the support of another group or horse-trading.
“Our view was to work as per the mandate given by the people for transparency,”Mungantiwar told The Indian Express Sunday.
On Friday, after the cabinet meet held at the CM’s official residence Varsha, Sena ministers reportedly had a direct conversation with Fadnavis about the BJP extending support to the Sena’s choice of candidate for the mayoral election. Shinde, a Sena leader from Thane, was selected to present the party’s case to the CM.
“The cabinet meet was convened so that the Sena ministers should get a chance to speak to Fadnavis without attracting the media’s attention,” said a senior Shiv Sena leader.
Subsequently, Fadnavis and Thackeray spoke on the phone Friday night, for the first time since the BMC poll results, the leader added.
On Saturday, at a meeting of senior Sena leaders held to finalise candidates for the mayor and deputy mayor positions, discussions revolved around whether the BJP would offer unconditional support.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Eknath Shinde said, “Our view was very clear, that Sainiks and their views are more important to us than the post of mayor or deputy mayor. That’s what we told the BJP leadership. We also told them that we were undertaking the due process about mayoral elections and asked them to take a decision about the elections.”
BJP leaders said the Sena sought cooperation in the mayoral polls.
“Since the beginning, the Sena leadership was of the view that the Centre and the state government were with the BJP and that the Sena should be allowed to control the BMC. We also didn’t want to run a government with a sword of uncertainty hanging over us. We have eight other municipal corporations in the state where we will do a lot of work for the people to see,” said a senior BJP leader.
The leader added that the matter was then discussed in the core committee meeting and a decision announced.
On Saturday, Fadnavis announced that the BJP would not contest the polls for the post of mayor, deputy mayor and chairmanship of any of the BMC committees. Also, the BJP would not stake claim as an opposition party but play the role of custodians of transparency in the BMC, he added.
Leaders of both parties said it now appeared highly unlikely that the Sena would withdraw support from the government after it received a safe passage in the BMC.