The BJP has started preparations for the Maharashtra Assembly elections, but there is uncertainty over its alliance with the Shiv Sena. In an interview with Liz Mathew, Saroj Pande, BJP general secretary in charge of Maharashtra, said that although BJP wants to continue the alliance, it is also prepared to contest all 288 seats. Excerpts:
There is lot of talk on the stability of the BJP-Sena alliance. Is the BJP sure that it is continuing the partnership in the upcoming elections?
We have been in alliance and we are in 95 per cent agreement that we will continue to be in alliance. Our efforts are towards that. But we work in 288 constituencies as if our fight is in all 288 seats. In fact, our efforts in Sena’s seats are such that we will fight and win elections there too. That’s how our preparations are.
Does it mean that the BJP is still open to going solo?
In politics, anything can happen anytime. But we want to remain together. That’s how we are going ahead.
The Sena has talked about the chief minister’s post
In BJP, it is always the elected legislators who choose the Chief Minister. Once the election is over, party MLAs sit together and elect a Chief Minister. But in Maharashtra, we are moving ahead with the position that the Chief Minister will be from the BJP. It has already been talked about and decided that there will be a BJP Chief Minister.
You have travelled extensively in Maharashtra before preparing for elections. The state has witnessed several crises, including agrarian issues. What do you see as the biggest challenge for the BJP in the elections?
Actually, the state government has done a lot of work. The Chief Minister’s (Devendra Fadnavis) image is also really good. People are in favour of the current chief minister. Whatever be the issue, the Chief Minister has worked honestly to find a solution. In fact, Maharashtra has had such good governance after a long time… Along with that, we have an advantage that our Prime Minister is also a very popular face. Earlier, governments spoke of poverty alleviation. But it was Modi-ji who brought in effective remedies for changing lives of the poor. So, Prime Minister’s image also will be an election issue.
Kashmir was an emotional topic for Indians. With the scrapping of the special status for Jammu and Kashmir, Union Home Minister Amit Shah has proved that only decisive leaders can take action that would change history. People had issues with Article 370 and Section 35 A and people wanted a leader who would make bold moves. Now people feel this is a strong and decisive government. We will definitely get advantage…
What relief did the Fadnavis government bring for the drought-hit farmers?
The state government took several measures. The Chief Minister engaged one minister to tackle this issue and he even delayed the Mahajanadesh Yatra for completion of projects in the drought-hit region.
There are some leaders in Maharashtra BJP who have differences with the Chief Minister. Some of them even nurse the ambition of occupying the top seat. Did you make any effort to bring everyone together?
The party will fight the election united. I do not think we have any issue.
Have you started talks with Sena on seat allocation?
Not yet. But we will soon begin the talks.
Has the crumbling of the Opposition and the weakening of the Congress created any complacency among the BJP leaders?
We are trying to get out of it. I know that feeling should not be there.