“Yes, I had a luncheon meeting with Raj Thackeray. I have offered him a proposal… He should not work at cross purposes with the BJP-led grand alliance in Maharashtra. We do not want him to field candidates against us because it is bound to split the Sena-BJP votes and this will be detrimental to the electoral fortunes of the National Democratic Alliance at the Centre,” Gadkari told The Indian Express.
While Gadkari did not say what he offered Raj in return, top sources in the BJP said about 35-40 seats in the 288-seat assembly could be earmarked for the MNS.
“The talks are at an initial stage. We want him as our partner. The details and formulae can be worked out accordingly,” was all that Gadkari would confirm. Besides MNS, Gadkari is also trying to rope in the Peasants and Workers Party as an ally.
“Once things move ahead, Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray will be taken into confidence before a firm commitment is made to the MNS,” Gadkari said.
There have been efforts in the past to get MNS join the BJP-led alliance. Raj’s party played spoilsport in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, handing an advantage to the Congress-NCP. Even if it does not win seats, the MNS can take away a sizeable chunk of votes, affecting the winnability of the Sena-BJP. BJP leader Gopinath Munde had met Raj and Uddhav separately earlier in a bid to bring the MNS into the NDA.
In 2009, the MNS polled over one lakh votes in each constituency, cutting into primarily Sena-BJP votes. The Sena and BJP together polled 29 per cent votes; along with MNS, it would have topped 33 per cent.
“This is what I am looking at to ensure we tap the most number of Lok Sabha seats out of the 48 in Maharashtra,” Gadkari said.
“I impressed upon him the need to recognise national concerns releated to development and good governance. For this, we have to dislodge the Congress-led coalition at the Centre,” the former BJP president said. “Let us also reconcile to the fact that coalition governments are here to stay, and for this the NDA will have to expand with new partners.
“Whether it is Raj Thackeray or NCP president Sharad Pawar, we are friends who share our concerns on development,” Gadkari said, adding, quickly, however, that the NCP remained a Congress ally.
A senior BJP leader said about the Gadkari-Raj meeting, “Prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is keeping his fingers crossed because he does not want to antagonise the Sena and disturb the seat-sharing arrangement in Maharashtra.”
A senior Sena functionary warned, “Any alliance without our consent will not be acceptable. We cannot give our consent to any promises made by the BJP to MNS without taking us into confidence.”
Late in the evening, state BJP president Devendra Fadnavis met Uddhav Thackeray at Matoshree, and assured him the BJP would take no decisions without taking the Sena into confidence.