Even as the channels for negotiations with the Shiv Sena are being kept open, the BJP has quietly readied a plan to go without its oldest ally in the coming Maharashtra assembly elections. The party’s top leadership has cleared almost 220 candidates, prepared slogans — for both scenarios — and has already taken the smaller allies into confidence.
Meanwhile, BJP general secretary in charge of Maharashtra Rajiv Pratap Rudy said party president Amit Shah has spoken to Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. “Shah has spoken to Thackeray, and that itself indicates that we are very eager to continue with the alliance,” he said. He claimed that Shah made a “very liberal offer”, climbing down from the initial demand for 135 seats to 130 seats. He also offered to accept the “worst possible seats” which the Sena has not won in the last 25 years, said Rudy.
“We won’t pull the plug. We are hopeful that a solution will be found. The general consensus (at the party’s central election commission and parliamentary board meetings) was that we want to have an alliance and should work towards it… It would be very disheartening if we have to break the alliance,” said Rudy.
Reducing the demand further, a senior BJP leader in Mumbai said, “If the Sena is ready to give us 126 seats, the alliance stays. Otherwise, consider it the end of the alliance.” But Thackeray continued to keep the BJP hanging. The official response from the Sena office was, “The alliance stays, but the deadlock over seat-sharing continues.”
“At the moment, the status of the Sena-BJP alliance is like that of a patient who is in the ICU,” said Sena MP Sanjay Raut. “It’s on ventilator. But there are cases where patients recover in such critical situations too,” responded a BJP leader.
“We still have to decide on the number of seats. Other things come later,” said central BJP observer O P Mathur. “We have already submitted our proposal — 130 seats for BJP, 140 for Sena and 18 for other allies. We have neither received any formal proposal nor any response from the Sena,” said state BJP chief Devendra Fadnavis.
With the Sena showing no signs of giving in, the BJP has prepared an alternate plan. While both sides had agreed to keep aside 18 seats for the smaller allies — Rashtriya Samaj Party (RSP), Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghana and Republican Party of India (Athawale) — BJP leaders claimed that if the “mahayuti” (grand alliance) in Maharashtra is broken, the smaller parties would remain with it.
Party sources said the BJP, if it goes without the Sena, would target winning 120-130 seats in the 288-member Maharashtra assembly. “The BJP is still keen on keeping the alliance with the Shiv Sena because the combination will certainly come to power in the state. But we do not want our ally to take us for granted,” said a BJP leader.
If it breaks its 25-year-old alliance with the Sena, the BJP plans to focus on the urban seats and Vidarbha region. Its campaign will target Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, for “kicking out his cousin (Raj Thackeray) and humiliating its old ally”, and hold him responsible for the break-up.
“Raj walked out because of his (Uddhav’s) arrogance and the same arrogance is pushing us out. The same reason forced senior leaders including Narayan Rane and Chhagan Bhujbal to leave the party,” said a senior BJP leader. The BJP leader said its central election committee has already prepared a list of candidates for all the seats it would contest in case of a break-up. “There is no need for the CEC to meet again,” he said.
The Sena has said it is willing to contest 151 seats — 18 less than the 169 it contested last time, thus allotting all 18 seats to smaller allies from its quota. The BJP’s unwillingness to accept this offer has given credence to the speculation that it is keen to fight the elections without the Sena.
Party sources indicated that this would be better for the BJP because it would prompt the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to also break its alliance with the Congress, thus leading to a multi-cornered contest, which would be advantageous for the BJP. “Secondly, the BJP has been giving all the urban seats to the Sena. This time, we have an upper hand in those seats. We are confident of winning the urban seats in Mumbai, Nasik and Pune,” said a party leader.
The BJP assesses that the “Modi wave” has not faded among the middle class. “Even though we lost eight seats in the recent bypolls in Uttar Pradesh, the party candidates in Noida, Lucknow East and Saharanpur Nagar — all urban or semi urban seats — have won,” he pointed out. “In Maharashtra, the BJP has good clout in the rural areas, especially in Vidarbha region. So we are confident,” he added. Meanwhile, the state BJP has convened a conclave of party leaders, MLAs, MPs and district office bearers in Dadar on Tuesday.