Electoral tie-up with BJP? Shiv Sena continues to play hardball

Mumbai: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah hopes Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena will jointly fight next year’s state and national elections with his party, but his nativist ally in Maharashtra continues to play hardball.

After meeting Thackeray at the latter’s Mumbai residence on 6 June, Shah claimed the Shiv Sena would be ready for a pre-poll alliance with the BJP. However, just a day later, Thackeray said his party would win the Palghar Lok Sabha seat in 2019. Just a week earlier, the BJP had defeated the Shiv Sena in a bypoll in the same constituency.

Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut told news agency ANI that his party had already passed a resolution to fight the next elections alone and there has not been any change in this position. On 8 June, Harshal Pradhan, the chief of Shiv Sena’s public relations department, tweeted that speculation regarding the “closed-door discussions between Thackeray and Shah were meaningless since none of the two leaders had spoken about the meeting”.

Functionaries from the Shiv Sena and BJP say the Sena is maintaining its tough posture for three reasons. One, Thackeray is keen on a pre-poll alliance but does not want to restrict it to the Lok Sabha elections alone. “Shah has himself said on a few occasions recently that Lok Sabha and Maharashtra assembly elections won’t be held together. If that is the case, no point in walking into the BJP trap of having an alliance for the Lok Sabha which is more important for Modi and Shah and keeping the assembly elections later an open game. We are more interested in the assembly elections,” said a senior Sena functionary, requesting anonymity.

Two, if the BJP agrees to a pre-poll alliance for both elections, Thackeray wants the BJP to commit itself to a “non-negotiable seat-sharing formula right now”, according to this functionary. “The seat-sharing has to be finalized and announced now before the Lok Sabha elections. We want a return to the pre-2014 seat sharing, though we are open to some changes to accommodate BJP. But under no situation would we contest less than 155 seats,” the Sena functionary said.

Three, if the Sena is required to reverse its position of contesting on its own, Thackeray would need convincing face-savers to pacify the Sena cadres, especially those who want the party to go alone, the Sena functionary said.

The Maharashtra assembly has 288 members and elections are due in October 2019. In the 2014 assembly polls which the two parties fought on their own, the BJP contested 260 seats and won 122 and the Sena fought 282 and won 63. But before 2014, the long-honoured seat sharing formula gave 171 seats to Shiv Sena and 117 to the BJP.

In fact, in the 1990 Maharashtra polls which was the first assembly election the two parties fought together, the Sena contested 183 seats and won 52 while the BJP contested 104 and won 42. While both the parties know the 1990 seat-sharing is history now, a mutually “honourable and acceptable” formula for 2019 is what both the parties are chasing since 2001, when the BJP’s strength in the state assembly increased nearly three-fold from 46 in 2009 to 122, but the Sena saw a moderate rise from 45 to 63.

A senior BJP leader and Maharashtra minister, who did not want to be named, said there was no way the BJP would agree to contest less than 144 seats—122 which it won in 2014 and 22 that it lost by a “close margin or had the potential to win in 2019”.livemint

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