Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray (file photo: RNA Research & Archives)
It sometimes takes an impending defeat to threaten a political alliance, while on other occasions it is the prospect of victory that tears parties apart. The latter situation has developed suddenly in Maharashtra, where the 25-year old alliance between regional party Shiv Sena and the BJP is on the verge of breaking up over the number of seats they would each contest in the upcoming state election. The saffron combine is expected to win the election from the incumbent Congress-NCP alliance, but the ongoing public spat could throw the election wide open.
In the last state election in 2009, the Shiv Sena had contested 169 seats and BJP 119 seats. But with the BJP winning the general election in May – in which the alliance took an impressive 42 parliamentary seats out of the 48 in Maharashtra – the pan-India party now wants an equal number of seats as its regional partner.
The BJP has proposed that after allotting seats to smaller allies like RPI (A) and Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, the two major constituents of ‘Mahayuti’ (grand alliance) should contest an equal number of 135 seats.
But Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray on Monday said his party would contest 150 seats and rejected the BJP’s demand for 135 seats. He even hinted at going it alone, saying “everything has an alternative”.
Thackeray had sparked the present crisis when he declared on Saturday that the next chief minister would be from “Shiv Sena only” if the saffron alliance won the election. The BJP on the other hand, wants the party with the largest number of seats to get the chief minister’s post.
“BJP had its mission 272 for Lok Sabha polls, we have our mission 150 for the assembly election. Nobody should have any objection to it,” the Shiv Sena president declared.
But what ruffled the BJP’s feathers more was that Thackeray appeared to question the contribution of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the election victory in May.
"Was the Modi wave felt in Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Odisha and West Bengal? It depends on alliance partners as well. Modi is Prime Minister of our alliance," Thackeray reportedly said in a television program on Saturday.
The BJP was quick to respond. The party’s state president Devendra Fadanvis told Hindustan Times, "There is huge discontent among our rank and file over the statements made by the Sena leadership against our leader”.
"This has reached our higher-ups. Now, we have decided that we will not make any effort anymore to talk to them on seat-sharing," he added.
Thackeray claimed on Monday that talks are still on to clinch a seat-sharing formula. But with both the Shiv Sena and BJP hardening their positions, an agreement seems almost impossible, with much of the damage already done.
An editorial in the Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamana said, “The demand for more sex can lead to divorce… Allies in the coalition must dream of a victory. For this, all parties must give up the lust for more seats.”
The BJP response? According to the Indian Express, a senior BJP leader retorted on Sunday, “I would like to warn that impotency can also become a cause of divorce.”
“The next government in Maharashtra will be formed under the leadership of BJP. Our national president (Amit Shah) had made this very clear while on his trip to Mumbai. And his decision is final,” said BJP’s state unit spokesperson Madhav Bhandari.
The deadline for nominations is September 27, so the window for any rapprochement is now closing quickly.