Will 52-year-old Nitin Gadkari’s elevation as BJP president change the equation among saffron alliance partners in Maharashtra, is a question being discussed in state political circles.
The over two-decade long Shiv Sena-BJP alliance, engineered by slain BJP leader Pramod Mahajan, has held till date. Now, with Mr, Gadkari at the helm of affairs in BJP, there is growing speculation about its status in the backdrop of recent developments.
The latest development, which could damage the already fragile ties between Sena and BJP, is reports that Sena did not give its second preference votes to BJP during the voting for Legislative Council seats from local self-government bodies on Friday.
For the two seats from Mumbai, which saw a triangular fight, the Shiv Sena and the Congress seem better placed than the BJP, with the Sena, which has the highest number of corporators in the civic body, not casting second preference votes for ally BJP.
Sena had nominated former Leader of the Opposition Ramdas Kadam, who lost the Assembly elections from Guhagar in Raigad district, while the BJP had fielded incumbent MLC Madhu Chavan. Congress fielded trade union leader Bhai Jagtap, who lost the Assembly polls from suburban Jogeshwari.
“By not voting for the BJP candidate, the Sena has indirectly helped the Congress,” a BJP corporator said.
Mr. Gadkari is known to enjoy a working relationship with Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray but their relations are not exactly ‘cordial’.
Three years ago, Mr. Gadkari emerged winner in the crisis which threatened the saffron alliance as both parties staked claim over Chimur seat in Assembly bypoll. As Mr. Gadkari stood his ground, the Sena blinked and agreed to give up the seat.
This was after senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde held talks with Sena chief Bal Thackeray and Uddhav. Earlier, Thackeray’s editorial in Sena mouthpiece, Saamna, had said.
“There is no give and take in friendship and we have shown enough patience so far.” The editorial also targetted Gadkari for ‘damaging’ the alliance.
“Earlier, whenever there was a crisis in the saffron alliance, Sena leader bypassed BJP leaders like Mr. Gadkari and Mr. Munde and approached Mr. L. K. Advani for resolution of the crisis. Now, when Mr. Gadkari is BJP President, there is little scope for bypassing him,” a Sena leader said.
BJP has already assumed the role of ‘Big Brother’ in the alliance. Its senior state leader Eknath Khadse was last month elected Leader of Opposition in Legislative Assembly, in place of Sena leader Ramdas Kadam. In the October Assembly polls, BJP won 46 seats, compared to 44 won by Sena.