The BJP has reached out to its erstwhile ally, the Shiv Sena, ahead of a planned cabinet expansion next week. The move comes amid growing pressure from the ranks of both parties to patch up and be part of the ruling alliance in a bid to keep the NCP at bay.
The softening of stance was reflected in the fact that Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis led his entire cabinet and party office bearers to pay floral tributes to Bal Thackeray on his second death anniversary at Shivaji Park in Mumbai. Fadnavis, who spent a few minutes at the venue, also pledged his government’s commitment to build a memorial for Bal Thackeray. “My government will build a memorial for Bal Thackeray, whom we deeply respect and look upon as an inspiration,” he said. “A committee headed by the chief secretary will be formed soon to work out the details and the location.”
Sena president Uddhav Thackeray will be part of the committee. Fadnavis has indicated that the government will consult leaders from all parties, including Uddhav, for setting up the memorial.
Back channel talks are underway, but the BJP wants to restrict the number of ministers from its old ally to 11, including six of cabinet rank and five ministers of state. The Shiv Sena, which is non-committal, has kept its options open and is willing to discuss the number of cabinet berths and portfolios with the BJP, party sources said. The BJP is willing to concede control of the ministry of energy, water resources and public works department to the Sena.
However, the bone of contention is the Sena’s demand for the post of deputy chief minister and the home department portfolio, senior party leaders said.
A common cause for both Sena and BJP workers is an anti-NCP campaign, which could help bring both parties, which had an alliance for 25 years, back together after they parted ways during the October state polls. The BJP (121) along with Sena (63) can boost their tally to 183 MLAs — well ahead of the halfway mark of 144 MLAs required to prove a majority in the Assembly.
Interestingly, the Sena’s political managers ensured that there were no anti-BJP slogans when the CM arrived at the venue. Instead, Sena followers conveyed their political might by raising pro-Sena slogans.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is in Australia, also tweeted about Bal Thackeray. BJP president Amit Shah also praised the late leader, saying that he lived in everyone’s hearts through his speeches and commitment to nationalism. Senior minister Eknath Khadse, whom the Sena views as the prime architect of breaking up the alliance, also paid homage.