A day after it emerged as the single largest party in Maharashtra, winning 123 seats in the 288-member Assembly, the BJP on Monday opened back channel talks with its former ally Shiv Sena, but made it clear that it would keep the Chief Minister’s post and the four key portfolios: home, urban development, revenue and finance. Moreover, with the Sena winning only 63 seats, the BJP has proposed a 2:1 division of the cabinet.
While the BJP on Monday mobilised support of 12 MLAs representing smaller parties and independents, it is still short of a clear majority (145 seats). Keeping this in mind, BJP leaders said the party was willing to concede the Deputy Chief Minister’s post to its former ally and also offer an additional portfolio at the Centre.
Sena president Uddhav Thackeray, who reached out to the BJP on Sunday, congratulating both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah, told party leaders that he had taken the initiative to break the ice. “Now, if they treat us with dignity, we will join the government. Or else, we should not accept their proposal,” he is learnt to have said at a party meeting on Monday.
The BJP responded by sending emissaries to its former ally, but made it clear that it was not willing to part with many ministerial berths. According to BJP sources, the party is not willing to give the Sena more than 14 of the total 42 ministerial berths.
“The BJP is ready for an alliance with the Sena. But the ministerial representation in the government should be based on the number of MLAs. So the ratio should be 2:1,” said a senior BJP functionary, explaining that the BJP should get 28 ministerial berths, while the Sena should get 14.
But a senior Sena leader said, “We will insist on the 1995 formula: the party which wins more seats stakes claims for the Chief Minister’s post but the portfolio allocation and representation should be equal.”Behind the BJP’s tough posturing is the NCP’s offer of “unconditional” support.
Having broken its alliance with the Congress soon after the BJP-Sena split ahead of the polls, the NCP won 41 seats in the Assembly.
“We are not in any hurry to form the government. I cannot comment on who will be on board or not. The BJP is confident that it will form the government and have its own chief minister,” said party general secretary Rajiv Pratap Rudy.
Summing up the mood in the party, a state BJP leader said, “We already have smaller parties and independents knocking on our doors to extend their support. We just need 10 more MLAs to reach the halfway mark.”
A section in the party feels there is no need to seek the Sena’s support. But that would mean the BJP would have to rely on the NCP’s support from outside. While BJP leaders believe the NCP is unlikely to trigger any trouble in the current situation, NCP chief Sharad Pawar is known to be a shrewd player.
Meanwhile, the BJP has put off a meeting of its newly-elected MLAs. The meeting was scheduled to be held on Tuesday to appoint the leader of the state legislative assembly. The indications, from both the central and state leadership, are that state party chief Devendra Fadnavis will be recommended for the post, which would make him the frontrunner for the Chief Minister’s post.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and party general secretary Jagat Prakash Nadda, who were named observers for the legislature party meeting, cancelled their Tuesday trip to Mumbai. Singh, who shares a good personal equation with Uddhav Thackeray, would want to be seen as a facilitator of a convergence between the BJP and the Sena. The BJP high command has not yet decided whether it would like to name its chief ministerial candidate without sorting out the terms of a coalition with the Sena.