After years of bitterness, starting with the last Assembly polls in Maharashtra that they fought separately in October 2014, the BJP and the Shiv Sena appear to be moving closer to each other with just a few months to go for the Lok Sabha elections.
In Delhi, sources said the BJP has offered the Sena half of the 48 Lok Sabha seats from Maharashtra — in 2014, the BJP had contested from 26 and the Sena 22. In Mumbai, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray chaired a meeting of his party’s MPs where he is said to have expressed the wish that he wanted a “personal bond with Narendrabhai (Narendra Modi)”.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Sena leader Sanjay Raut said any deal had to be based on the principle that the BJP is the “big brother in Delhi (Lok Sabha) and the Sena is the big brother in Maharashtra”.
“We are not bothered about what you (BJP) do in Delhi, but you have to acknowledge our leadership in Maharashtra… The number of seats comes only after these two points are accepted by both sides,” he said.
On the proposed Lok Sabha seat-sharing formula, Raut said: “Either there will be a package-deal vis-a-vis both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha or none at all… There is no proposal from the BJP to form any alliance with the Shiv Sena. Those who wish to forge an alliance with us are talking about it. We are not waiting for any proposal to be offered to us.”
However, a Shiv Sena MP who attended Monday’s meeting in Mumbai told The Indian Express: “Our president Uddhav Thackeray said he wanted a ‘sambandh (relationship) with Narendrabhai’ and not with the Prime Minister. What he meant was he wanted a personal bond with Narendrabhai and not with the Prime Minister, dealing with him officially. He wanted the relation to be like one with a family member. He wanted a one-to-one relationship with Narendra Modi.”
The MP said Uddhav wanted to remind Modi that the relationship between the two parties went back to well over two decades. “It is not something which happened yesterday. Uddhav said there was no need for an alliance but at the same time, said that if BJP comes up with a honourable proposal, they would go for it,” he said.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, meanwhile, said at the BJP’s state executive meeting in Jalna that the party wants an alliance for the “unity of Hindutva”.
“Make no mistake, the BJP is not a vulnerable party. Yes, we want an alliance. But our emphasis on alliance is for the unity of Hindutva. Our efforts are to consolidate like-minded forces to fight against corruption,” Fadnavis said.
“Those who are against Hindutva will not come with us. The rest will come with us,” he said.
The first signs of a thaw between the two sides came when the Sena skipped the 23-party “anti-BJP” rally organised by TMC chief Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata on January 19 after announcing that it would send a representative.
The BJP-led Maharashtra government, meanwhile, facilitated the conversion of the prestigious Mayor’s Bungalow in Mumbai to a memorial for the late Sena supremo Bal Thackeray and allocated Rs 100 crore to an organisation set up for its construction.
With the Sena also pushing for simultaneous Assembly polls, sources said, they were mindful of the fact that it was not realistically possible for the BJP to revert to the old formula — 171 for the Sena and 107 for the BJP.
But the Sena will not settle for less than half of the 288 Vidhan Sabha seats, sources said. “Even if it is just one seat, we have to get more than the BJP,” sources said.
Raut, meanwhile, described the BJP winning 122 Vidhan Sabha seats in 2014, compared to 63 of the Sena, as an “aberration”. “Ground realities today are different,” he said.
Over the last few years, the Sena, which is the oldest saffron ally of the BJP, has drifted away over a variety of issues.
To start with, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inducted only one representative of the Sena in his government. The party was also not happy with the portfolio allotted to its leader Anant Geete — Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises.
Both parties wrangled ahead of the Vidhan Sabha polls, too, in 2014 before deciding to contest separately. The Sena was also resentful that there has been no significant consultation within the NDA, as was the practice during the Vajpayee-Advani era.
Ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the main challenge for the BJP is to emerge as the leader of the single largest block. And after having lost a number of partners like the TDP, RLSP, PDP and AGP, it is keen to keep the Sena on its side.
(Inputs from Pradeep Kaushal, Manoj More, Shubhangi Khapre)