Maharashtra is seeing a stand-off between the Sena and its ally BJP over power sharing after the combine won a simple majority in the October 21 assembly election. The game of nerves between Shiv Sena and BJP threatens to drag on as there was no indication that the alliance partners are ready to engage in serious discussions to resolve differences even as opposition NCP and Congress showed readiness to do business with Sena.
BJP and Shiv Sena contested the recently-held election jointly in Maharashtra. They sought vote for the ruling alliance saying theirs was oldest and natural alliance. When they were voted to power, the Shiv Sena and the BJP diverged on opposite routes over some "50-50" formula of power-sharing that was never put before the voters. It lies in the domain of ifs and buts what would have been the election result had the voters known the secret "50-50" understanding between the BJP and Shiv Sena, as the latter has claimed. The voters assumed they were in agreement about forming government together and they voted for continuation of the government giving a clear majority unlike 2014 when they had contested separately. Their alliance had formed post-election in 2014.
The view in BJP circles after Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis met home minister Amit Shah in Delhi was that Sena would have to make it clear that it is ready to discuss issues without preconditions. There seemed no give on demands such as a 50:50 share in ministries or splitting the CM’s term. Fadnavis told the media that the new government would be formed soon but did not elaborate. He also said his meeting with Shah was to seek assistance for farmers affected by unseasonal rains.
The unresolved situation, with just days to go for the deadline for formation of a new assembly to end, was seen as evidence of a continuing deadlock and brinkmanship as Sena MP Sanjay Raut told reporters that he had met governor B S Koshiyari and conveyed that his party was not responsible for the limbo. The BJP brass, sources said, was not taking its ally’s threats to explore alternative formations lightly, but was equally clear that there could be no concessions on the demands put forward by Sena. The party remains committed to a full five-year term for Fadnavis and is willing to consider a Sena deputy CM.
NCP's offer for Shiv Sena
"Nothing like it if the BJP gives the Shiv Sena chief minister's post. But if the BJP is refusing, an alternative can be given. But the Sena should declare that it is no longer associated with the BJP and NDA. Alternative can be provided after that," NCP chief spokesperson Nawab Malik said. Sources in the Sharad Pawar-led party also said that it told the Sena leadership that Sawant, the lone Sena minister in the central government, should resign before a new political alignment for government formation can be explored. "Arvind Sawant should walk out of the government. Only then NCP will open its cards," the sources said.
NCP chief Sharad Pawar also discussed the deadlock over government formation in Maharashtra with Congress president Sonia Gandhi. A leader of Pawar’s party said that NCP was willing to join a Shiv Sena led government, with the Congress supporting from outside and its nominee getting the speaker’s post. All this would depend on the Sena terminating its alliance with the BJP, the leader added.
Pawar told reporters when asked if he thought a “bargaining game” was on between the allies, “I think the game between the two is serious” – something he is also believed to have conveyed to the Congress chief. He said he hadn’t received any proposal from Sena president Uddhav Thackeray before adding that he could not speak about what would happen in future. Pawar is learnt to have urged the Congress chief to review her position on staying away from the Sena and to give a green signal to her state unit. However, another NCP leader said he was doubtful about the Sena taking the lead in forming the government. In the past too, the Sena had taken a firm stand against the BJP but had, at the last moment, “surrendered to the BJP leadership.” “We have had experience with the Sena, its credibility is doubtful,” he said.
While the BJP has won 105 assembly seats, the Sena has 56 and the NCP and Congress 54 and 44 respectively – totaling 154, which would take them past the majority mark of 145 in the 288-member Assembly.