Unexpected Hiccup Is Why BJP’s First List Had No Candidate From Maharashtra

Unexpected Hiccup Is Why BJP’s First List Had No Candidate From Maharashtra

Developments in the past 10 days make it clear that Chief Minister Eknath Shinde’s group as well as Deputy CM Ajit Pawar’s group want more seats in the Lok Sabha

Rohit ChandavarkarUpdated: Tuesday, March 05, 2024, 11:48 PM IST
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Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar | File photo

The manner in which the Bharatiya Janata Party succeeded in engineering a split in the original Shiv Sena as well as Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) over a year ago and the way BJP effortlessly stitched an alliance between three parties to form a coalition government in Maharashtra quickly, gave an impression to many that the big Lok Sabha poll seat sharing alliance in the BJP led Maha Yuti (alliance of BJP, Shiv Sena and Ajit Pawar-led NCP) will be effortless and will be totally dominated by the BJP. However developments in the past 10 days make it clear that Chief Minister Eknath Shinde’s group as well as Deputy CM Ajit Pawar’s group want more seats in the Lok Sabha and were seen raising their voice openly and demanding a bigger share, making it clear that they will not quietly toe the BJP line. For this very reason the BJP has not been able to announce a single name from a very important state like Maharashtra in its first candidate list that was released a couple of days ago.

Some senior leaders of the BJP told media reporters, off the record, in the last week of February, that the formula for seat sharing between the BJP, Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena and Ajit Pawar-led NCP would be 32-12-4 seats respectively. This information spread fast and a lot of discussion started taking place in the regional media and social media over how the BJP could keep so many seats for itself and give a very small portion of the seats to its partners. Obviously the seat formula was not official or final, but it transpired that the BJP leaders had released the info off the record as a “test balloon”, to gauge the reaction to it.

Senior Shiv Sena leader from the Eknath Shinde camp Gajanan Kirtikar was the first to fire a salvo. “We cannot accept such a low number. In previous polls we have fought 22 seats. In the last Lok Sabha polls the Shiv Sena won 18. How can we be given only 12 this time?” Kirtikar said in an interview. Though CM Shinde did not react to this officially, it was clear that Kirtikar had Shinde’s consent when he raised his voice against the BJP-dominated seat sharing formula. Kirtikar’s views got echoed all over and many leaders such as former minister Ramdas Kadam from the Shinde group started speaking on the issue, forcing the BJP leadership to clarify that the final formula was not decided yet. As the Shinde group leaders calmed down, suddenly leaders from the Ajit Pawar camp such as sitting Raigad MP Sunil Tatkare and others started raising their voice against the so-called proposed formula. As the first week of March is about to end, the buzz in Maharashtra's politics is only about how there is discontent among the alliance partners of the BJP over Lok Sabha seat sharing and whether this will affect their performance in the upcoming polls. This was totally unexpected.

There are two possible reasons for this sudden and open discontent being expressed by the leaders in Eknath Shinde’s Shiv Sena and Ajit Pawar’s NCP. Firstly they want to bargain hard during the Lok Sabha seat sharing discussion and settle for some additional seats in the Assembly polls which will be held in October this year. The second possibility is that they want to counter public perception created by Uddhav Thackeray and his party spokesperson through the media that Shinde and Ajit Pawar have become totally submissive and accept anything that’s told to them by the BJP central leadership. It is very clear that both Eknath Shinde and Ajit Pawar are not very focused on the Lok Sabha polls. Though having some party members in the Lok Sabha would help their organisation, the number being high is not a crucial issue for them. A much bigger and important agenda point for them is to secure maximum seats in the Assembly polls that come later. Both Shinde and Ajit Pawar have ambitions related to their leadership growing or staying stable at the state level. So the BJP was taken aback to see these regional players suddenly demanding more seats in the Lok Sabha contest.

As expected, the ball is now in the BJP central leadership's court. Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who is now more in the role of a BJP master strategist for the Lok Sabha polls, arrived in Maharashtra on Monday night to spend two days in the state holding meetings and rallies with BJP party activists. He met leaders in Marathwada and Vidarbha and is expected to hold final talks with top leaders of the state in Mumbai today. It is more or less certain that Amit Shah will find a solution to the dispute between the alliance partners of the BJP in Maharashtra.

However, the manner in which alliance partners Eknath Shinde and Ajit Pawar have become sort of marginalised in the original seat sharing formula prepared by the BJP will leave scars on the minds of leaders from these regional parties. Leaders and activists getting into suspicion about whether they will be properly accommodated in other polls like assembly polls or municipal polls that come later, may cause some rift. It may also cause impediments in the efforts to transfer votes from one party to its alliance party candidate, especially between Ajit Pawar’s party and the BJP candidate. In the coming days the BJP will have to work overtime to satisfy Eknath Shinde and Ajit Pawar, but much depends on whether these leaders are able to transfer the votes of their supporters to the BJP candidates. Many equations may again change after the results of the Lok Sabha polls.

Rohit Chandavarkar is a senior journalist who has worked for 31 years with various leading newspaper brands and television channels in Mumbai and Pune

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