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Sena for tough bargain with BJP for 2019

Saturday, January 05, 2019
PRAKASH BAL JOSHI

Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) set up a government in Delhi in 2014 along with the Shiv Sena as a part of National Democratic Alliance, the relationship between the two parties have been on a roller coaster making it difficult for both the partners of power in Delhi as well as in Maharashtra.
Initially, it was thought that it is a tactical move by the Sena to be always on its toes and question every move of the BJP in Delhi as well as in Mumbai to snatch away opposition space from their traditional rivals in Maharashtra, the Congress as well as Sharad Pawar led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Though aggressive Sena put the Congress and the NCP on backfoot for a long, it also made the BJP worried as it went on attacking almost each and every move in Mumbai as well as showed its displeasure over many measures taken by the central government including demonetisation and GST.

Now that both the parties are on tenterhooks and approaching the most crucial 2019 general elections, they have to decide whether to fight it together or go separate way. What hurt the Sena ego most was the fact that the BJP which was number two in the state had emerged as single largest party in 2014 assembly elections when all the four major parties – BJP, Sena, Congress and the NCP had contested on their own.

NCP’s hide and seek with Congress
Like Sena, the Pawar led NCP is also playing hide and seek games with its poll ally the Congress Party. However, the Congress and the NCP seems to have realised that they can not afford to fight separately and take on the BJP Sena combine together as a front or even if they fight separately. So, both the Congress parties have decided to contest the coming Lok Sabha election together as a part of Mahagathbandhan to check the BJP in the state where it had won more seats in 2014 under Narendra Modi wave. They have already held spate of closed-door meetings to even decide number of seats they would be contesting and deciding on the actual list of constituencies they would be contesting as elections are not far off from now.

There seems to be no hurry on the part of the BJP and the Sena which are still fighting with each other like cats and dogs without mincing words. The Sena which fears that the BJP will ultimately eat into to its vote bank, is not even sparing Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is star campaigner for the NDA. However, the BJP which was riding on high horse seems to have buckled down under pressure once the party lost three states in Hindi heartland Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh.

BJP president Amit Shah who is credited with several wins due to his poll strategy has already held meeting of top party functionaries in Maharashtra over party’s strategy for 2019. He has kept the door for negotiations open but at the same time telling party leaders to keep ready for separate fight if situation arises. As replied by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his marathon interview by ANI editor Smita Prakash, the party realises that the regional parties have their own compulsions and desires to grow creating peculiar situations. With his assertions, it appears that the BJP would try to accommodate as many regional partners as possible before it approaches the 2019 elections.

Amit Shah has already worked out a seat sharing formula with Nitish Kumar in Bihar by taking into considerations concerns of union minister Ram Vilas Paswan and his party.

The Sena on its part has stunned the BJP and regaled the Congress and other players in Maharashtra by joining the other anti-BJP parties in demanding joint parliamentary committee (JPC) on Rafale deal. On the floor of the house, Sena MP Arvind Sawant pointed out that though Bofors gun was good its deal was questioned during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure and similar demands are being made on Rafale deal. This position taken by the Sena is consider as a step towards putting pressure on the BJP for better bargain during seat sharing talks.

The Sena has been hinting that the BJP must accept its demand for equal number of seats in Lok Sabha as well as the state legislative assembly elections scheduled in 2019 for continuation of their pre-poll alliance. The Sena also seems to be ready for simultaneous polls but it is not precondition for the proposed pre-poll alliance in the state. It says that if the BJP decides to go in for simultaneous poll, it will go along with it but it wants to discuss the issue of sharing of seats for both the elections at one go though the state assembly elections may be held after the Lok Sabha polls are over in the first half of the year.

In 2014, the BJP contested 24 Lok Sabha seats, the Sena 20 leaving four seats for the regional partners like the Swabian Paksha, the Republican Party of India and the Rashtriya Samaj Paksha. They fell apart in assembly elections the BJP contested 260 while Sena 288 out of out of 288 assembly seats. The BJP won 122 emerging single largest party while the Sena won 63 seats. Now Sena wants to contest 50 per cent of the Lok Sabha and 50 per cent of the assembly elections.

Though Sena joined the BJP led government in the state, both the parties had no tie up or any informal understanding in local self-government bodies. The BJP won 15 out of 27 municipal corporations in the state on its own giving a jolt to the Sena. Sena continued to dominate Mumbai Municipal Corporation with reduced margin, just two seats short of the BJP seats.

Sena keeps door of negotiations open
The Sena has already declared that it will contest the next Lok Sabha elections on its own, but keeping doors of negotiations open. Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray is playing hot and cold with the BJP chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. The CM is keeping cool amidst Sena provocation and concentrating on state administration avoiding taking any political stand.

The Congress and the NCP have already announced their decision to fight the Lok Sabha elections as a front putting pressure on the BJP as well as the Sena to come on a common platform. If the Congress and the NCP gets an upper hand in Lok Sabha elections, automatically they will seize power in the state from the BJP-Sena which both the saffron parties would not like to happen. Despite all hiccups, Devendra Fadnavis appears to be confident that the BJP-Sena pre-poll alliance will take shape so that he could win more seats for the NDA.

Sena’s stand on Ram temple at Ayodhya is seen as an escape route to reunite with the BJP just before the coming elections.

The party has been attacking   Prime Minister Narendra Modi for doing nothing for building Ram temple demanding immediate start to construction of the temple at the site in Ayodhya. The party wants the government to take a firm stand and issue an ordinance since the Supreme Court it taking its own time in delivering the judgement in the case. As a part of its movement for Ram temple, party president Uddhav Thackeray along with other seniors went to Ayodhya and participated in prayer for the temple.

All eyes on the BJP and the Sena in Maharashtra as much will depend on what happens with the pre-poll alliance.

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