MUMBAI: For the entirety of Devendra Fadnavis’s tenure as Maharashtra chief minister, from 2014 to 2019, one of his biggest critics was his own alliance partner, Uddhav Thackeray. The junior alliance partner knew that the way to stop itself from being eaten up by its larger ally BJP was to never let up on the aggression and combativeness.
Election arithmetic notwithstanding, that’s why it felt incongruous when Uddhav and other Shiv Sena leaders toned down their rhetoric in the run-up to voting day in Maharashtra.
While the BJP was widely expected to sweep the Maharashtra election—most exit polls gave the alliance more than 200 out of 288 assembly seats—it has only managed to get around 159 seats. That takes it above the halfway mark of 144, but also means that there is no way the BJP can form the government without Shiv Sena. For the BJP, which was hoping for more bargaining power over the Thackerays—especially with Aaditya Thackeray winning his first electoral battle—this will indeed be a bitter pill to swallow.
And no one knows this better than Shiv Sena chief and Aaditya’s father Uddhav, who was in a jovial, combative mood in a press conference on Thursday.
The first indication that the tables have turned came when Uddhav did not address a joint press conference with Fadnavis, preferring to speak to media at his house.
“I thank the people of Maharashtra who have given this important mandate and shown how aware they are. They have clearly brought some people to the ground who were trying to fly in the air. This verdict is an eye-opener for all of us,” he said.
Fadnavis, who addressed a press conference half an hour later at the BJP headquarters in Mumbai, had to try and justify why he thought the BJP’s performance wasn’t bad.
To be sure, both alliance partners have seen their tally reduce from 2014—according to the latest trends, BJP is at 100 compared with 122 earlier, while Shiv Sena is at 57 , down from 63.
But the Shiv Sena can now bargain for a plum post for the Thackeray scion—talk of deputy CM or even “Maharashtra’s youngest chief minister” are all floating in the air at this point—as well as ensure it isn’t sidelined by Fadnavis and Co. (the chief minister has a reputation for being ruthless with opponents and allies alike).
When a journalist asked if the next chief minister will be from Shiv Sena, Thackeray replied, “Aapke muh mein ghee shakkar.”
While Fadnavis emphasised that the formula for forming a new government had already been decided, Thackeray demurred, saying that the CM post was an “important issue” now because he Shiv Sena-BJP alliance had decided on a 50-50 formula.
“There is no point keeping it hidden now. Before the assembly elections, BJP state chief Chandrakant Patil requested me to understand their problem and I just tried to accommodate them but I can’t do it anymore. I have a party to run and expand. Our senior leaders will sit and clear the formula and then stake claim,” he said.
Throughout his press conference, the CM kept on reiterating this “50-50 formula” but refused to disclose more details.
Shiv Sena leaders think Uddhav, who has often been compared unfavourably with his father Bal Thackeray, is unlikely to let go of a rare opportunity to corner the BJP. And his refusal to play ball may also delay government formation in the state.
Adding to the BJP’s woes, Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan and NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal have also said they are keeping all options open (the NCP-Congress combine have got around 100 seats).
While Chavan told a news channel that everything is possible in politics, Bhujbal said that there is a possibility of Shiv Sena getting the chief minister’s post.