Shiv Sena legislator alleges bid to poach MLAs, BJP denies charge

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Mumbai: The running feud within Maharashtra’s ruling coalition worsened on Wednesday when a Shiv Sena legislator claimed senior alliance partner Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had tried to poach its legislators, a charge immediately denied by the BJP.

Harshvardhan Jadhav, Shiv Sena legislator from Kannad in Aurangabad district told Marathi news channel ABP Majha that senior BJP leader and state revenue minister Chandrakant Patil had offered him and 25 other Shiv Sena MLAs Rs5 crore each to join the BJP. Jadhav repeated the allegation to Mint on the phone, but declined to give details.

Patil did not immediately issue any reaction, but senior BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari dismissed Jadhav’s charge as “rants of a frustrated legislator”.

Jadhav told the news channel that Patil had met him in October and offered a bribe of Rs5 crore each if he and 25 other Sena legislators switched to BJP. Patil also offered Jadhav a Maharashtra legislative council berth if he joined BJP, according to the Sena legislator who is a member of the legislative assembly. Maharashtra has a bicameral legislature.

In the 288-member legislative assembly, BJP is the single largest party with 122 MLAs followed by Shiv Sena with 63. Since December 2014, when the Shiv Sena formally joined the Devendra Fadnavis-led government after much sulking, it has routinely issued threats to withdraw support to BJP. If the Sena pulls out, the BJP government would be reduced to a minority in the house. To keep the Sena on the back foot, state BJP functionaries have frequently said off the record that 20-27 Sena legislators were in touch with it to switch sides if Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray withdrew support. However, no BJP leader has ever confirmed this on the record.

BJP functionaries think Jadhav’s allegation, especially since it names Patil, is a calculated one, since Patil is very close to BJP president Amit Shah. “This is a plain mischief aimed at embarrassing the BJP and Shah,” said a senior BJP leader requesting anonymity.

Madhav Bhandari said the BJP did not need to approach legislators from other parties. “This is a baseless charge. The BJP has an army of worthy cadres and does not need to poach legislators from other parties. Jadhav’s allegations stem from his own frustration,” Bhandari said.

The BJP-Shiv Sena turf war in Maharashtra has intensified after the announcement of Gujarat elections. The Shiv Sena has decided to contest 50-60 seats in the 182-seat Gujarat assembly election, even though it has little base in the state. While BJP in Maharashtra, which has a close connection with its Gujarati unit since a large number of BJP’s Gujarati supporters in Maharashtra and Mumbai have family ties back in Gujarat, is not worried about the Sena’s ability to spoil its chances in the Gujarat polls, it sees the Sena decision to contest as a direct affront.

“Shiv Sena is a big zero in Gujarat but it is still contesting some 60 seats just to stretch its animosity to the BJP to Gujarat. This is not only petty but also reflects so poorly on Uddhav’s political wisdom since all these contestants would lose their deposits,” said the senior BJP leader cited earlier.