How fight over just one seat ended 25-year BJP-Sena marriage

It finally came down to just one seat: Bhusawal. The current MLA, who won on an NCP ticket, has now joined the BJP. But the seat was in Shiv Sena’s ‘quota’. Neither party wanted to give up the seat this time, and that proved to be the last straw

The break up of the 25-year-old Shiv Sena-BJP alliance seems to boil down to one tiny Assembly constituency in northern Maharashtra.

Shiv Sena workers shout slogans against the BJP outside Matoshree, after the split was announced last evening. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
Shiv Sena workers shout slogans against the BJP outside Matoshree, after the split was announced last evening. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

Even as BJP leaders were taking the stage at the evening press conference to announce that they were parting ways with the Sena with a ‘heavy heart’, senior Sena leaders told mid-day that things were looking good for the alliance even till late last afternoon, until the talks hit a huge roadblock in the form of the Bhusawal assembly constituency in Jalgaon district. The seat was with the Sena as per the old seat-sharing arrangement.

BJP leaders Eknath Khadse, Devendra Fadnavis and Pankaja Munde during a press conference to announce the split yesterday. Pic/PTI
BJP leaders Eknath Khadse, Devendra Fadnavis and Pankaja Munde during a press conference to announce the split yesterday. Pic/PTI

Bhusawal turned out to be a microcosm of the ego tussles and discontent that had been plaguing the alliance, and proved to be its undoing. “We had agreed to everything, from exchange of seats to the numbers for seat sharing, but the BJP leaders were adamant that they wanted the Bhusawal seat, and we couldn’t give it to them. That one seat was the bone of contention,” confirmed a senior Sena leader.

The ‘villain’
Bhusawal was very important both to the BJP and the Sena for a variety of reasons. The BJP had promised the seat to the constituency’s current MLA and ex-minister, Sanjay Savkare, who left the NCP recently to join the party. The bigger reason, however, was that the Raver Lok Sabha constituency, under which the Bhusawal assembly seat falls, is currently represented by Raksha Khadse, daughter-in-law of senior BJP leader and opposition leader in the assembly, Eknath Khadse.

Khadse is also the BJP’s tallest leader in northern Maharashtra and Sena leaders say he is the ‘villain’ in the break up. Sources told mid-day that around noon yesterday, Uddhav Thackeray had called BJP president Amit Shah in Delhi and asked him to sort out the seat-sharing issue, and the BJP chief had assured his Sena counterpart that the alliance would remain intact. After this, Uddhav also got a call from Om Mathur, the Maharashtra election in-charge of the BJP, who told him the same thing.

Party sources said that things began taking a turn for the worse in the afternoon, when Khadse returned from Jalgaon, where he had gone to file his nomination papers. The BJP’s core committee held a meeting at Khadse’s bungalow around 4 pm and that was when it was decided that the party would end the alliance.

Khadse was the one who called Uddhav and told him that the BJP was parting ways with the Sena because of ‘time constraints’. Sena leaders, however, say they had a full night to discuss the alliance and could have found a solution by Friday, a day before the last day of filing the nominations, but the BJP was in a hurry to end it. They say it was no coincidence that Khadse addressed the media in the evening to announce the end of the 25-year-old bond.

Sena woes
The Bhusawal seat has been a thorn in the side of both the alliance partners since the seat sharing talks for the upcoming elections began. While the BJP wanted the Sena to give up the seat, the latter didn’t want to do so, as their candidate had lost the seat in the last assembly elections with a margin of only 3,908 votes. The Sena was sure it would win it this time.

Sena leaders allege that not only was the BJP adamant on snatching Bhusawal from them, its leaders also showed arrogance. “The way the top BJP leaders spoke to us was very odd. Someone like Om Mathur, who doesn’t know anything about Maharashtra, told Uddhavji that the Sena should give up seats like Dadar or Thane, but we still took all of this lying down, because we wanted the alliance to remain intact. But the BJP was adamant on ending the alliance and we agreed,” said a senior Sena leader.

“A leader from the BJP had warned us in June that the party would ditch the Sena as that is what it was doing to its allies across the country. But we did not believe him as we were in an alliance and we had no intention of seeing it end. We didn’t even prepare properly for fighting separately,” he added.

Scavenging
Meanwhile, the Sena will declare the candidates for its seats tomorrow and is trying to get RPI (A) to ally with it. The BJP, however, is trying to corner the four smaller parties, including RPI (A), by alleging that the Sena wasn’t ready to accommodate them and had been stuck on the figure of 150 throughout the talks, leading to the deadlock. The Sena will announce its future plans on September 27, when Uddhav will be addressing a rally at Mahalaxmi.

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