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“MNS, NCP not political untouchables for BJP”

The Shiv Sena’s sudden change from its stated opposition to having a poll truck with the BJP was the result of the BJP managers impressing upon the Uddhav Thackeray-led party that it might lose its “negotiating power” in case of BJP emerging as the single largest party after elections, a BJP leader revealed Tuesday.

Moreover, the BJP also pointed out a spate of meetings having taken place between Sena’s arch rival MNS and NCP leaders, and the possible backdoor agreement between the two parties.

The BJP leader, who was part of negotiations to bring Sena around, also said the Uddhav Thackeray-led party was also told that the MNS and NCP are not politically untouchables for the BJP, which he said came as a “trigger” for Sena to lower its guard.

“Though Congress is opposed to forging any kind of alliance with the MNS, the fear of NCP and MNS forming an alliance behind the curtain was conveyed successfully to Shiv Sena leadership,” he said.

“In one of the recent meetings, it was bluntly communicated to Sena that MNS and NCP are not politically untouchables for BJP,” he added.

Overcoming their strained ties, the BJP and the Uddhav Thackeray-led party Monday announced to contest the ensuing Lok Sabha and Maharashtra Assembly elections together.

As per the seat-sharing agreement, the BJP will contest 25 seats and Shiv Sena 23 of 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra.

The two parties will contest an equal number of seats, after allotting allies their due share of segments, in polls for the 288-member state Assembly, due this year.

The BJP leader also acknowledged that Sena’s support was crucial for his party for making a comeback to power, especially in the absence of the 2014 “wave”.

“Everybody in BJP knows that there is no wave like 2014 ahead of Lok Sabha elections now. All we need is to secure the support of like-minded parties in the country. Sena’s support thus became crucial as Maharashtra has 48 Lok Sabha seats, the second biggest chunk after Uttar Pradesh,” he said.

Explaining the strategy adopted by the BJP during poll negotiations with the Sena, the leader said the party mainly focused on three points.

“Our first argument, which nobody doubted, was that the BJP would anyway emerge as the single largest party after Lok Sabha elections even if it suffers reverses. This means the BJP will be invited first to form government,” he said.

The leader further said the Sena was told that it would lose more seats than the BJP because “voters tend to favour a party and not a personality in Lok Sabha polls, and that the BJP has both”.

He said the Sena was told that it would lose its “negotiating power” and end up as one of the smaller allies of the BJP if the latter emerges as the single largest party.

At present, Sena has 18 MPs in Lok Sabha, its biggest tally since its inception.

It was also conveyed to Sena that the party could claim more portfolios in the Central government if it manages to retain its current stock post elections.

“If Sena manages to retain its MPs, it could claim more portfolios rather than Heavy Industries ministry currently held by Sena leader Anant Gite,” he said.

A senior Sena leader said the party was disappointed from day one over the allotment of an insignificant ministry to Gite.

“Sena had wanted better ministries but it could not get any. Now, the picture is changed. Now, the BJP is relying more on NDA and as a larger player among the regional parties, Sena could get better portfolios for its MPs,” he said.

Another BJP leader said, the party might have to allocate Palghar Lok Sabha seat to Sena though the BJP has won it four times so far.

“The 23rd seat which Sena will be contesting is most likely to be Palghar,” he said.

Sena leadership has been strongly pitching for Palghar seat.

In the bypoll held for the tribal-dominated Palghar constituency in 2018, Sena candidate Shrinivas Wanga was defeated by BJP’s Rajendra Gavit.

The seat was won by Srinivas’ father Chintaman Wanga in 2014. His death had necessitated the bypoll.

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