Are BJP, Shiv Sena heading towards an amicable deal?
Indications by top leaders from both parties over the past week make it seem like it is
Should the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena workers perceive that the pre-poll alliance between the two parties is bound to happen any day soon? Indications of the top leaders — Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, Sena president Uddhav Thackeray and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis — over the last one week make it seem that unlike 2014, they were heading towards something amicable. "Aamcha tharalay (we have decided)," was a favourite takiya kalaam (leitmotif) Thackeray and Fadnavis used when asked about the fate of the bond that was re-stitched between them ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.
What have these leaders decided? Confusion was created when Thackeray and Fadnavis (and BJP) insisted that the CM would be from their respective parties. Two days before sharing the dais with Modi, Thackeray told his workers that the Sena would get the CM's office. The Sena president has been consistent in demanding half of 288 seats that would go to polls in October. Was this just for optics or...?
Speaking from BJP's platform, Fadnavis has announced in advance his return to the throne. BJP leadership has also endorsed his anointment. Fadnavis and no other BJP leader has ever said that the Sena's demands would be met. If so, then, why would Sena get the top job? If not now, then, would it go Sena's way next mid-term? Questions are in abundance but no answers are forthcoming.
Confusion in rank and file
With confusion writ large, the BJP and Sena workers have been questioning their own sagacity of understanding the equation that should emerge from the seat-sharing talks. Optimists in the BJP have been caressing a sentiment that their party might leave the Sena to fend for itself instead of cajoling Thackeray forever. They bet that the 2019 elections would provide BJP a golden opportunity for getting a majority on its own instead of sharing the success with the Sena. A sizeable section of sainiks thinks politically correct in terms of the gains that the BJP's company would get them. Hence they want the pact. The party's Lok Sabha yield in association with the BJP stands testimony to their stand.
All eyes are on the parley that is being conducted by the second line. The first round has failed. The second round will be held early this week. The negotiations are likely to reach the high command for conclusion because the juniors have been asked to not put their feet down and bargain hard without scaling down even an inch. Suitable information has been leaked to the media to build up pressure on each other. Expect the mystery to unfold when the high command steps in to make the final announcement, if there is one to make. Or else expect a break-up accompanied by a suitable script from both sides.
Race of hurdles
As the talks progress, tension has been growing in the battlefield. The generals and their deputies might be marketing a show of united strength, but there are at least 50 segments where the local leaders don't want their parties to vacate the claim. There are some places where the BJP won from the Sena in 2014's four-corner fights, but in Lok Sabha the Sena candidates scored massive leads in straight fights against the Congress-NCP. The BJP leaders say the leads happened only because of the Modi wave and they don't want to part with the seats. If the seats are left for the 2014 winners, a proposal of exchanging seats that the two parties have lost successively in 2009 and 2014 elections is also being considered. The BJP has 21 and Sena 76. Will this formula get Sena's approval? If it works then the defections that were planned as per the formula should benefit both in at least 10 seats.
The second formula being talked about is to keep the existing seats (Sena's 63+BJP's 122=185 of 288) intact and share the remaining 103 equally. That should get BJP 173 and Sena 114. But then who should part with seats for the smaller allies? Sena doesn't want to bear the burden because the BJP had these allies in 2014.
Meantime, the BJP hasn't fallen short of handing respect to the ally — a perennial demand that the Sena chieftain raised when his relations with Modi-Shah seemed strained even as Fadnavis made all efforts to calm him down. Will a refurbished tie-up between Modi-Shah and Thackeray work?
On ground, discontent is brewing and aggression against each other has built up in the Sena and BJP camps. The 'incoming' in Mumbai has made party affairs critical in Magathane, Malad, Byculla and Wadala and it should extend quickly to the other segments. Of Mumbai's 36 seats, the BJP bagged one seat more than the Sena's in 2014. The sharing before 2014 was skewed in the then 'elder brother' Sena's favour. In Nagpur district's 12 seats at least four should hit hurdles. The alliance scare has most districts in Vidarbha, western Maharashtra, Marathwada, Konkan and North Maharashtra under its influence. The epidemic should test the top leadership's healing skills. Pact or no pact, the October elections should see only the saffron outfits occupying the space. The Opposition, if willing to play hardball, should be adding a nice flavour to the political khichdi that the BJP and Sena have put on the burner for simmering.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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