The top leadership of the Shiv Sena, which is fighting the municipal polls not as an ally of the BJP, has decided not to withdraw support from the BJP-led government in Maharashtra. Even as the party issued directives to the cadre to go hammer and tongs against the BJP in the municipal corporation and zilla parishad elections, Sena president Uddhav Thackeray believes withdrawing support at this juncture would dent the Sena’s image. A highly placed source in the Sena told The Indian Express, “The top leadership in the Sena believes the public mandate of the 2014 assembly elections was a verdict for the BJP and Sena government. As a result, the Sena cannot take any irresponsible step at this moment.” Besides, the party also fears that withdrawing support would be like walking into an NCP trap, which is waiting in the wings to take advantage and enter power politics. The NCP had earlier offered to support the government for stability.
A senior Sena functionary said, “On December 4, 2014 when Thackeray took the decision to join the BJP-led government, it was to honour the public mandate and provide stability to Maharashtra.” “If they take a decision to withdraw support, they would be accused of destabilising the government,” he said. In the Assembly of 288 seats, the BJP has 123 seats and Shiv Sena 63 seats. The BJP was short of 21 seats to attain the halfway mark of 144 required to form the government. The BJP has all its options open to keep the Fadnavis government intact in Maharashtra. A senior BJP leader said, “We have plan A and plan B ready. We have the support of independent and smaller groups, which takes our tally from 123 seats to 138 seats. Then there are sections within the opposition groups willing to align with the BJP. Already there are several sitting MLAs across parties building bridges with the BJP ahead of the 2019 assembly polls.”
The challenge would be in the state Assembly if the Congress were to moot a no-confidence motion and the Sena decides not to vote in favour of BJP. In such a scenario, the BJP says it has mustered the support of 50-plus MLAs willing to remain absent. Elected members across partylines from Vidarbha are also keen to support the Fadnavis government. After the pre-poll talks for BMC elections failed, the Congress-NCP had raised questions on the Sena-BJP coalition government. Former chief minister Ashok Chavan said, “The Sena should show courage to withdraw from the government.”
NCP president Sharad Pawar has said, “The NCP will not join the government. But any decision would be taken through consensus in the organisation.” Such contradictory statements from political quarters and leaders are being closely monitored in the Sena headquarters. A Sena insider said, “Thackeray’s decision to join the government was for the larger public good. Therefore, any flip flop is being ruled out.” However, the Sena is making all efforts to fight the BJP electorally in the municipal and zilla parishad polls.