Will 52-year-old Nitin Gadkari's elevation as Bharatiya Janata Party president change the BJP and Shiv Sena alliance equation in Maharashtra? The over two-decade long Shiv Sena-BJP alliance, engineered by slain BJP leader Pramod Mahajan, has held till date. Now, with 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 Sena, which has the highest number of corporators in the civic body, not casting second preferencevotes for ally BJP.
The 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. Gadkari is known to enjoy a working relationship with Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray but their relations are not exactly 'cordial'.
Three years ago, Gadkari emerged winner in the crisis which threatened the alliance as both parties staked claim over Chimur seat in Assembly bypoll. As Gadkari stood his ground, Sena 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, Saamana, 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 alliance, Sena leaders bypassed BJP leaders like Gadkari and Munde and
approached L K Advani for resolution of the crisis. Now, when Gadkari is BJP president, there is little scope for bypassing
him," a Sena leader said.
The 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.