With barely 72 hours remaining before the filing of nominations for the Maharashtra Assembly opens on September 27, the two major alliances — the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena and the Opposition Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) — are yet to finalise their alliances, creating a pre-poll situation akin to 2014.
As the clock ticks, both groups are engaged in throwing verbal darts at each other, continuing the suspense over alliances.
Belying expectations in political circles, BJP chief and Union Home Minister Amit Shah didn’t have a meeting with Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray during his Sunday visit to Mumbai.
But Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, state BJP chief Chandrakant Patil and other Union Ministers have proclaimed that the alliance with the Sena was “on”. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also urged people at his Nashik rally last week to bring back the “Fadnavis government” with full majority.
Even on Monday, Fadnavis said, “We are concerned about the alliance and it will happen at the right time”.
In contrast, the Sena has not been so warm or vocal in its response. It insists on being allotted a “respectable” number of seats, plus wants the BJP to honour the understanding arrived between Shah-Fadnavis and Thackeray in the past on the issue.
Thackeray said last week as per the commitment, the two (BJP-Sena) would contest the elections with the equal number of 135 seats each and share the post of Chief Minister for 30 months each.
The BJP is hinting at doling out around 110-115 seats to the Sena, but has avoided any mention of rotating the Chief Minister’s post, and has also dangled the spectre of former Chief Minister Narayan Rane joining the BJP anytime soon, while the Sena seethes.
The party mouthpieces Saamana and Dopahar Ka Saamana took a swipe saying since the BJP had already decided everything, only the formality of pressing the EVM button was left in the name of elections.
A harried and worried Shah is expected to pay another visit to Mumbai on September 26, to woo the Sena chief for alliance as the BJP hopes to make a winning election issue out of revocation of Article 370.
The situation is not so rosy on the other side with the Congress-NCP combine hoping to dislodge the BJP-Sena with issues closer to the home.
Last Monday, NCP chief Sharad Pawar said in Nashik the two parties would contest an equal number of 125 seats each and leave the remaining 38 for other allies in the 288-member Assembly.
Much to the chagrin of the Congress, on Sunday senior NCP leader and former Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar went a step ahead and even ‘allotted’ specific seats to the Congress in the Pune district.
The Congress circles have been protesting mutely at the NCP’s big brother attitude and state Congress campaign chief Nana Patole has said “the alliance nitty-gritty is yet to ironed out”.
There are other ghosts looming on the political horizon with a bearing on the prospects of the BJP-Sena and the Congress-NCP combines in the form of the Prakash Ambedkar-led Vanchit Bahjan Aghadhi (VBA) and Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).
AIMIM Ties With VBA
The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) unilaterally snapped ties with the VBA, but Ambedkar on Monday said the alliance was very much on and it would contest all 288 seats.
Despite enjoying a good rapport with Pawar and sections of the Congress, Raj Thackeray is still standing at the doorstep with no party willing to open the doors for him.
Nevertheless, the MNS circles claim the party may independently contest 60-75 seats and is optimistic of being catapulted as a king-maker in case the other alliances fail to bag a majority after the elections.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org)