Mumbai: 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 (BJP)-Shiv Sena and the Opposition Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) - are yet to finalise their alliances, creating a situation akin to 2014. As the clock ticks, both groups are currently engaged in throwing verbal darts at each other, continuing the suspense over their alliances.
Belying expectations in political circles, BJP President and Union Home Minister Amit Shah did not have a meeting with Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray during his Sunday visit to Mumbai. However, both Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, state BJP chief Chandrakant Patil and other Union Ministers have full-throatedly proclaimed that the alliance with the Sena is "on", and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also urged people to bring back the "Fadnavis government" with full majority at his Nashik rally last week.
Even on Monday, Fadnavis said that "we are concerned about the alliance and it will happen at the right time". In contrast, the Shiv 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 this issue.
Thackeray said last week that 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.
A harried and worried Shah is expected to pay another visit to Mumbai on September 26, to woo the Sena chief for the alliance as the BJP hopes to make a winning election issue of the revocation of Article 370 in respect of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir as. 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 front than compared to Article 370.
Last Monday, NCP President Sharad Pawar announced in Nashik that 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 Pune district.
Congress circles have been protesting mutely at the big brother attitude of the NCP and state Congress campaign chief Nana Patole has said that "the alliance nitty-gritties have yet to ironed out". There are other ghosts looming on the political horizon with a bearing on the prospects of the BJP-Sena and Congress-NCP combines in the form of the Prakash Ambedkar-led Vanchit Bahjan Aghadhi (VBA) and Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).
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.
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.