Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray on Monday said that his party would stake claim to the post of Leader of Opposition in the Maharashtra Assembly, but maintained that they were still open to talks with the BJP.
“We have submitted a letter staking claim to the post of Leader of Opposition. In today’s scenario, no one has faith in each other. The Congress has already staked claim to the post. If we wait any longer, we will be neither here, nor there. However, we can still have discussions with the BJP. If the alliance with BJP has to happen, it will, else we will sit in the opposition,” Thackeray said at a function held at Rangsharda in suburban Mumbai.
He added, “My patience should not be seen as a sign of helplessness. The power of those who are speaking against Hindus is growing and we do not want the forces of Hindutva to get divided.”
Senior Sena leaders Diwakar Raote, Ramdas Kadam and Eknath Shinde submitted a letter to the Principal Secretary of the state legislature to stake claim to the post.
Earlier in the day, Sena spokesperson Neelam Gorhe said, “The talks that were being held between Uddhav saheb and Amit Shah have stopped. We are going to play the role of the opposition.”
With its relationship with the BJP deteriorating, Sena sought to take a more hardline Hindutva approach. Referring to the NCP’s offer for support, Thackeray asked the BJP whether it wanted to take help from those who supported terror and had paid money to the family of Ishrat Jahan. After Minority Affairs Minister Eknath Khadse announced that there will be an option to study Urdu in Marathi schools run by the state, Sena legislators tried to present him with a green skull cap.
Meanwhile, insiders suggested that the Sena’s flip-flops inside the Assembly and outside were a result of a divide within the party ranks, with several MLAs still urging Thackeray not to take an extreme stand against the Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP government in the state.
Though Sena’s MLAs occupied opposition benches in the Assembly on Monday morning, the discomfort was visible on their faces.
A Sena MLA said on condition of anonymity, “It is strange that being the second largest party, we are in the opposition. We should have played our cards carefully to bring BJP to the negotiating table to form the government.”
In another indication that the Sena is still hopeful of a reconciliation, Uddhav seems to have decided not to pull out his nominee in the Modi Government, Anant Geete, just yet.
“No, no, I am not resigning,” Geete, Union Minister for Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises, said when asked by The Indian Express if he planned to quit. “I will continue as a member of the Modi government,” Geete said. “It would be up to my party president Uddhav Thackeray ji to take whatever decision he wants about my future course of action,” he added.
According to sources, Geete said during internal parleys in the Sena that his presence in the Government would keep the chance of reconciliation alive.
Confirming that negotiations are still going on, a senior BJP leader confided, “Officially, talks between the Sena and BJP may have come to a standstill. But back-channel negotiations are underway. Everything will become clear on November 12.”
The BJP is unhappy with the Sena taking the extreme step of not allowing Anil Desai to join the Union cabinet on Sunday. A party source said, “BJP president Amit Shah had sought consent from Thackeray to induct Desai.”
The Sena insisted that they would like to see at least two candidates inducted into the cabinet. The source added, “The central leadership told them that since they have given only one ministerial post to alliance partner Telugu Desam Party, it would not be proper to give two posts to Sena.” However, Sena was assured that their demand would be considered in the coming days.
At that point, Thackeray had agreed. But 10 minutes before the swearing-in, Thackeray reiterated his earlier demand. The BJP told him that things cannot be reworked at the last minute. A source said, “Thackeray urged the BJP emissary to connect him to PM Narendra Modi. Since the PM was already in a function, BJP leaders said it was not possible.” Upset, Thackeray sent an SMS saying that the Sena would not participate in the swearing in.
On the face of it, the BJP seems content to let things take their course. On Monday, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said in response to questions from the media, “Some problems take care of themselves.”