Posturing or Pondering? BJP, Shiv Sena’s Mixed Signals to Cadre Keep Alliance Pot Boiling in Maharashtra

CNN-News18

Mumbai: Seat-sharing talks between the BJP and Shiv Sena for the upcoming Maharashtra Assembly elections have not yet been concluded, leading to speculation about the future of the alliance.

What has led to this speculation is the internal message to party cadre by their top leaders. Two days ago, Uddhav Thackeray is learnt to have told Shiv Sena MLAs, MPs and office-bearers that they “should not remain relaxed, and should prepare to fight the elections single-handedly on all 288 seats”. He, however, added a footnote to the caution. "An alliance will happen. But you all should be prepared," Thackeray is learnt to have said.

Just the day before, BJP president JP Nadda, who was on a tour of Maharashtra, is learnt to have told his party leaders to prepare as though they are “fighting on all 288 seats".

When asked about the fate of the alliance, Thackeray evaded the questions. When CNN-News18 persisted, he asked why reporters were so worried about the alliance. This fuelled suspicions that all is not well with the seat-sharing talks between the Sena and the BJP.

Sections within both want their parties to fight the elections on their own steam. With a spectacular performance in the Lok Sabha elections and the pro-incumbency the BJP says it has been witnessing, a few top leaders find it unnecessary to share power with the Shiv Sena.

"We have been telling (Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra) Fadnavis ji, we should fight these elections by ourselves," a senior BJP leader told CNN-News18 on condition of anonymity.

The BJP further says that the elder brother-versus-younger brother debate has been resolved once and for all. "We have more seats. So we are the elder brother now. Why should there be 50-50 seat distribution when we have more seats?" asked another BJP leader.

But Fadnavis, who shares a good rapport with Uddhav Thackeray, has consistently maintained that the alliance will take place.

The real question now is that of seat distribution, and whether the Sena will cave in to the BJP's demand of unequal seat distribution. With Maharashtra BJP president Chandrakantdada Patil believing that seat-sharing should be as per the past performance of both parties, the Sena has dug in its heels for the opposite. While the BJP has been trying to convince the Shiv Sena to take 110 seats, the latter wants a larger share.

It has been drawing the party's attention to an understanding reached with Amit Shah before the Lok Sabha elections. While talking to CNN-News18, Fadnavis said there was an understanding that the seat distribution will be nearly equal. Though the parties each may not have 135 seats, sources close to Fadnavis said the BJP would like it if Sena settled for around 120 seats. The remaining 18 seats will be left for the smaller allies.

But aggressive sections within the BJP have been trying to convince the Sena to settle for 110 seats, something the latter is clearly unwilling to do at this point. The fact that the BJP, more than the Shiv Sena, has seen a large exodus coming from the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has also changed equations.

With talks dragging on, the formula for seat-sharing is likely to be known close to the announcement of the election schedule. Till then, Maharashtra politics remains a bag of mixed signals.