The confusion in Maharashtra over the fate of the BJP-led minority government has been finally put to bed with the Shiv Sena joining the ruling combine on 4 December. It took almost two months for the old allies, who had parted ways over seat allotment before the Assembly election, to resolve their differences and join hands.
Even since the Assembly results were announced on 19 October, in which the BJP emerged as the single largest party with 122 MLAs in the 288-member House, the political situation had remained unpredictable. Incidents such as the NCP’s unconditional support to the BJP, the controversy over the trust vote, NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s controversial statement on support to the new government and speculation over the amalgamation of the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena contributed to the fluid situation in the state. But with the BJP and the Shiv Sena (63 MLAs) joining hands, the government now enjoys a clear majority of 184 members.
With the latest move, the strength of the Devendra Fadnavis Cabinet has risen from 10 to 30 — 18 Cabinet ministers and 12 ministers of state (mos). The Sena has been allocated 10 berths, including five Cabinet ones.
The BJP maintained its stand on scrapping the deputy chief minister’s post and did not surrender to the Sena’s demand for giving it the home ministry. In fact, Fadnavis remains in charge of the ministries of home and urban development.
The Cabinet ministers from the Shiv Sena are Eknath Shinde (public works), Ramdas Kadam (environment), Subhash Desai (industries), Diwakar Raote (transport) and Deepak Sawant (health and family welfare).
Initially, the BJP wanted to give two Cabinet and 10 mos berths to the Shiv Sena, but eventually agreed to allocate five each. Meanwhile, discussions are going on to accommodate Shiv Sena leader Anil Desai at the Centre with a Cabinet rank or mos (independent charge).
BJP leader and Cabinet minister Chandrakant Patil was the architect behind the new alliance. Patil, an RSS-activist-turned-BJP-leader is said to have close links with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. He also shares a good relationship with Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, because of which he was assigned the job of bringing the old allies together.
“We always wanted to form a government with the Shiv Sena,” said a senior BJP leader. “Even after the split, we thought that we would eventually form an alliance after the results. But when the Sena mouthpiece Saamna published derogatory articles about our national leaders during the poll campaign, we decided to back off. Although we had not asked the NCP for any kind of backing, their unconditional support to our government made the situation awkward. When we planned to rope in the Sena, Chandrakant Patil came into the picture and he was assigned the job to bringing the parties together.”
Another senior BJP leader said on the condition of anonymity, “The BJP was not happy with Shiv Sena spokesman Sanjay Raut because of his comments against the party. Even the Sena was aware about it. They took the initiative towards a reunion by removing Raut from the spokesman’s post, after which Chandrakant Patil visited Delhi and discussed the possibilities of a patch-up with senior leader Dharmendra Pradhan. Pradhan took the initiative and discussed the matter with Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, after which a separate meeting was held between Shah, Pradhan and Patil, in which it was decided to work for a union with the Sena. To satisfy the Sena’s ego, Pradhan visited Uddhav Thackeray at Matoshree and discussed the possibilities of an alliance, but made it clear that the state BJP unit would take the final call.”
At least 40 Shiv Sena MLAs were reportedly in contact with BJP leaders, but Modi and Shah were against the idea of splitting the Sena. “Uddhavji was also facing pressure, which he disclosed to Patil, with whom he shares an amicable relationship,” says a BJP source. “Some Sena leaders were also keen to join the government.”