New Delhi: Smug in the belief that they will cruise through in the Maharashtra assembly polls, the Bharatiya Janata Party on Friday sent feelers to the Shiv Sena that it can consider joining the new government and revive the 25-year-long association between the two saffron parties.
The message from Amit Shah was loud and clear in a close-door meeting with party officer-bearers: The onus is now on Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and it is his call whether he wants to play along or not. The BJP would have regrets if it loses an ally in the NDA. Implicit in this was a clear warning that if the Sena does not go with the electoral flow, it may cease to be a member of the NDA.
The first indication of a thaw also came when Prime Minister Narendra Modi made it a point to greet Anant Geete, Heavy Industries Minister, at the launch of Deendayal Upadhyay Shramev Jayate programme. Apparently Modi has decided to disregard the shrill attack mounted on him by Uddhav on the eve of polling.
Party sources said that Shah is hopeful that Shiv Sena would agree to be part of the government, both at the Centre and in Maharashtra; it was pointed out that Thackeray, too, had not foreclosed his options and not asked Geete to resign from the Modi-led government.
If the BJP falls just short of a clear majority, it makes sense for it to take support from an old ally, the Shiv Sena, instead of working in tandem with nondescript small parties and independents, sources said.
Shah also pointed out that the BJP has been successful in dispelling the notion that it has to play second fiddle to a regional party like the Shiv Sena. This message is also expected to go to other regional parties like the Akali Dal in Punjab, which has often treated BJP as a junior partner in the state.
“Once results are out on Sunday, conclusively establishing that we are capable of winning the election on our own, there is no reason why an old ally should sit on the opposition benches. Sena Chief Thackeray continues to be a NDA partner,” a senior BJP leader underlined after the review meeting by Shah.
The meeting also discussed who should be the chief minister. Shah singled out State BJP president Devendra Fadnavis (44) for praise for effectively leading the party in the elections. This is seen as a clear hint that the chief minister’s post would go to the young leader. Shah, however, indicated that he is yet to discuss the matter with PM Narendra Modi.
Sources ruled out that Modi will relieve Nitin Gadkari, Union transport minister, for tasking charge of the government in Maharashtra. He also ruled out sending Sushma Swaraj, external affairs minister, as the next chief minister of Haryana. Given a choice, Modi would not like strong regional satraps becoming chief ministers and challenging him in the future, sources added.
Sources also highlighted that the BJP is yet to make inroads in the south and east. It wants the Shiv Sena to remain in the NDA as this is in consonance with the party’s plans of building a ‘super NDA’ with more regional parties coming on board, but on BJP’s terms.
It would also be of no surprise if the BJP goes alone in the next Punjab assembly elections. A message that went from the BJP headquarters is, “Fight elections with us on our terms. If not, we go separate ways; and if required, we can come together later.”
Time to mend broken hearts
The Shiv Sena can be sweet, too. Putting behind the electoral rancor, an editorial in the Sena’s mouthpiece on Friday said, “There is no need to have arguments or bitterness any more. Hearts have been broken. Though it is difficult to mend broken hearts, Maharashtra needs stability and peace.”