MUMBAI: Putting up a united front, the Shiv Sena and BJP, allies for nearly 25 years, today declared at a joint press conference that the two parties were keen on continuing the alliance; they have been squabbling over their share of seats for the Maharashtra assembly elections. Meanwhile, with only four days now left to file nominations, the ruling Congress-NCP combine seemed no closer to resolving the impasse on seat-sharing.
The press conference was addressed by Sena leader Sanjay Raut and BJP leader Vinod Tawde, where the two leaders said, “Various proposals on seat-sharing are being worked out”. Mr Raut, along with other senior Sena leaders, held a meeting with BJP leaders in Mumbai today morning, in the first formal encounter in over 24 hours between the estranged allies.
The two parties have reportedly reached an understanding: the Sena will contest 151 seats, BJP will get a bigger share of 130 seats while the smaller parties in the alliance only get to contest seven seats in the 288-member assembly, said sources.
In an earlier ‘formula’ proposed by Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray on Sunday, the BJP was getting only 119 seats while the smaller parties got 18 seats. Mr Thackeray had said he was being generous in suggesting that the BJP contest the same number as it did in 2009, while the Sena will adjust smaller parties from its 2009 share of 169 seats.
The Sena has consistently rebutted the BJP’s argument that the national election results qualify it for more seats. The Sena has argued that the “Modi wave” that won them the national elections will not be relevant in a state election.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who discussed the seat-sharing stalemate with senior party leaders including party chief Amit Shah on Monday evening, had told the Maharashtra unit of the BJP that he will back their decision, but also they must try till the very end to salvage the situation.
Meanwhile, leaders of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party or NCP will meet again today evening to demand the latter’s demand that both allies contest an equal number of seats, ie, 144 each. The Congress says the suggestion is preposterous. In 2009, the Congress contested 174 seats and the NCP 114. The two allies have ruled Maharashtra for the last 15 years.
All four parties say they have Plan B in place – contesting the elections, to be held on October 15, alone. If the Maharashtra alliances come undone, it will become a five-way contest between the Congress, NCP, BJP, Shiv Sena and Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Narvnirman Sena or MNS.
That has also thrown up speculation about possible new post-election alliances. An unshackled NCP, say observers, might not be averse to joining hands with the BJP. In the run-up to the national elections earlier this year, leaders of the two parties seemed to share warm vibes. However, NCP leader Praful Patel has ruled out such a possibility.
Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan of the Congress indicated that his party is prepped for any eventuality. “We have completed the process for the 114 seats that the NCP contested last time but for about 15 of these seats, the decision hasn’t been taken,” he said.
For years the Shiv Sena has been the senior partner in their alliance, while the Congress has played that role with the NCP. The results of the national elections seemed to throw those equations asunder. The BJP won the lion’s share of the Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra at 23; the Shiv Sena won 18. In the rout they faced, the NCP won four seats, while the Congress could manage only 2.