Amid Public Display of Bonhomie Lies Hints of Power Tussle Between Shiv Sena & BJP in Maharashtra
File photo of former Maharashtra CM and Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray.
Mumbai: On Sunday evening, Dushyant Chaturvedi, a Congress leader from Vidarbha, joined the Shiv Sena. The move came within days of the Sena bring the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)’s Jaydatta Kshirsagar into its fold.
While Chaturvedi comes from Vidarbha, Kshirsagar (who was immediately rewarded with a cabinet berth), comes from Marathwada. Traditionally, the Shiv Sena had neglected both these regions. However, now as the saffron ally is keen on getting an equal number of positions in the state, it feels a pinching need to expand itself. Within the next few days, some leaders from Sangli, Satara and Kolhapur are also slated to join the Shiv Sena, a party source told News18.
The escalation of tension between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Sena is over the issue of sharing the chief ministerial position. While the Sena wants a leader from its camp to be at the helm for two-and-a-half years of the coming five-year term, the BJP has been non-committal about it. Recently, senior cabinet minister and Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis’ man-Friday Girish Mahajan went on record to say that the state will have a BJP chief minister.
On Monday, while hitting out at ‘those who speculated on the CM position’, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray said in Shreerampur anger among peasants would ‘destroy the seats of power’. Later in the day, Thackeray and Fadnavis held a joint meeting of party legislators, a move that is being seen as an attempt to portray a picture bonhomie to the opposition.
Ahead of the Lok Sabha election, when peace was brokered between the two parties, the Sena leadership had said there was an understanding on equal sharing of seats and responsibilities. In the 288-seat Maharashtra Assembly, the Shiv Sena has 63 seats, while the BJP has 122 MLAs.
While the two parties had contested the 2014 election separately, this time, they are keen on a joint fight. The Sena leadership has sought to field candidates from half of the 288 seats and leave out a few for other allies.
Recently, in a rare gesture, Thackeray had invited Fadnavis on the Sena’s 53rd foundation day. It was one of the very few times when a non-Shiv Sena leader shared dais with the Sena president on a foundation day celebration.
The gesture was seen as a symbol of great camaraderie and bonhomie between the two leaders. They also went on to praise each other. While Fadnavis showered praises on Sena supporters for slogging for BJP candidates during the Lok Sabha election, Thackeray talked of the bond he shared with the CM. “Yes, there were problems. But now we are together,” he said.
‘Shiv Sainiks’ extreme love and hatred’
During the same event, Thackeray went on to tell Fadnavis, “If my Shiv Sainiks (Sena workers) love someone, they love them to the extreme. You will never see that kind of friendship anywhere else. But if they hate someone, then even that is extreme.” Fadnavis, on the other hand, tried to underplay the speculations over the understanding that the parties have reached.
“We have come to a decision. And the decision has been made among Thackerayji, Amit Shahji (BJP national president) and myself. Everything can’t be told. And you shouldn’t ask too. We all have to know only one thing, that we have to work together for the Vidhan Sabha election,” he said.
Even as Fadnavis refrained from making any comment on the seat-sharing issue, Thackeray, moments later announced to a cheering crowd of Sena supporters, “We will have equal positions and equal responsibilities.”
“Of course, there is tension between Shiv Sena and BJP,” a senior Sena leader told News18 on conditions of anonymity, adding his party was in an acquisition mode to have a better bargaining power with the BJP after the Assembly election.
“See, earlier, there was an understanding that we will take care of Mumbai and the Konkan region and the BJP will look after the rest of Maharashtra. But that is not the case anymore. We want to strengthen our organisation in Vidarbha and Marathwada too, where we have traditionally been weak. We also want to expand in western Maharashtra. We are clear, we will want equal seat-sharing and equal division of responsibilities,” he said.
The Sena has already started grooming its young scion Aditya Thackeray, who will contest the upcoming election from a safe seat —Lalbaug, Sewri, Mahim or Bandra. It will be historic for the Thackeray family that has always stayed away from electoral politics and believed in remote-controlling the party. The coming few months will be crucial in seeing the outcome of this tussle, and all that the BJP would be willing to forgo to continue with the alliance.