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‘Fadnavis next CM’: Signs of discord in BJP-Shinde Sena tie-up, but leaders downplay differences

A series of statements by Maharashtra BJP chief Chandrashekhar Bawankule has upset the rebel Shiv Sena camp. CM Shinde has conveyed this to Deputy CM Fadnavis, Sena leaders claim.

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Mumbai: In less than two months of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) alliance with the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena faction in Maharashtra, signs of friction between the two allies have begun to appear, though the leaders from both sides are downplaying the differences for now.

First, the differences were apparent as it took 40 days to form a cabinet which previously had just the chief minister and his deputy, and then another five days to allocate portfolios. The portfolio allocations left a few ministers from the Shinde camp upset, with a majority being miffed over ‘demotions’.

Now, the fresh triggers for the rift are from certain statements made by the new BJP Maharashtra president Chandrashekhar Bawankule.

Last week, at a ‘Dahi Handi’ event organised by MLA Ravi Rana’s outfit Yuva Swabhiman Party in Amravati district, Bawankule said that the next MP from Amravati and MLA from Badnera in the district will be elected on the BJP symbol. The statement ticked off Anandrao Adsul, a senior Shiv Sena leader and former Amravati MP, who is a member of  the Shinde faction.

In another event with party workers at Buldhana last week, Bawankule declared that the next Buldhana MP will be from the BJP in an apparent snub to Prataprao Jadhav, the Sena MP from Buldhana, who was among the 12 MPs of the party to join Shinde.

Once again at Akola, Bawankule said Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is “the only person with the vision and leadership qualities to take the state on a developmental path”. He said Fadnavis will be the next CM representing the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance.

The remarks caused uneasiness in the Shinde camp with some leaders taking it up with the chief minister, who later informed Fadnavis about their displeasure, three senior Sena leaders told ThePrint. Leaders from both sides are, however, playing down the issue saying Bawankule was only trying to galvanise the party’s cadre.

The BJP state president did not respond to ThePrint’s calls and text message.

The month of June saw the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government faced a rebellion from the Shinde camp and it ended with Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray resigning on 29th. The rebel Sena group and the BJP then went on to form the government the next day.

The new government, however, took over 40 days to have a cabinet beyond just Shinde and Fadnavis as the two sides took time to negotiate the cabinet constitution and portfolios, and were also wary of what the Supreme Court might say on the Thackeray-led Shiv Sena’s disqualification petitions against the rival camp. The court this week referred the matter to a Constitution bench, which will hear it on 25 August.

Also Read: Sushil Modi’s ‘BJP breaking Sena’ remark likely to cause storm in Maharashtra monsoon session

‘Will not allow BJP to use and throw Shiv Sena’

Bawankule may be new as the state BJP president, but he should not forget that his party is in power today only because of the Shinde-led Shiv Sena, Adsul said.

“The BJP was out of power for 2.5 years. CM Eknath Shinde was in the government (as part of the MVA). Neither has the BJP bought the Shiv Sena nor has the Shiv Sena surrendered to the party. Bawankule must remember that and refrain from making statements that can impact the alliance,” the Amravati MP told ThePrint.

Adsul said Amravati was traditionally Shiv Sena’s seat in the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance as he himself had been MP twice, while Prataprao Jadhav has been a three-time MP from Buldhana.

From 1999 to 2019, Amravati was represented by the Shiv Sena in the Lok Sabha after which Independent candidate Navneet Rana wrested it from Adsul. After her elevation, Navneet and her husband switched their allegiance to the BJP.

Buldhana was represented by the Shiv Sena since 1999, first by Adsul and then by Jadhav for the last three terms.

“Bawankule is a senior leader holding a major party post and should apologise for his remarks. We will not allow the use and throw of Shiv Sena,” Adsul said.

Jadhav was more measured in his response. “We spoke to the CM and also informed the deputy CM about what we felt, and there is no issue now. Bawankule was just trying to boost his cadre by making such statements,” he told ThePrint.

“Earlier too, when the Shiv Sena and the BJP were in an alliance (before 2019), the BJP used to campaign on the lines of ‘Shat pratishat BJP’ (100 per cent BJP), and the Shiv Sena was also working to strengthen itself everywhere. But, ultimately, Deputy CM Fadnavis has said that all the MPs and MLAs who have joined the present Shiv Sena-BJP alliance will not only get nominations but also work towards our re-election,” Jadhav added.

Jadhav said the coordination on the ground within the coalition is much better than what it was in the MVA “when the Shiv Sena had to sit with its decades-old rivals.”

‘Small differences likely in any alliance’

A senior MLA from the Shinde camp said the discord over Bawankule’s remarks has been “resolved”.

“BJP leaders admit that he spoke a bit too much in his enthusiasm as the new BJP Maharashtra president while addressing party ‘karyakartas’ (workers). We also understand that; so, we aren’t making it an issue. This is what politics is,” he said.

BJP MLA Atul Bhatkhalkar told ThePrint that there was “no issue” between the two sides.  “Whatever statement has been made by our party president should not be viewed in relation to the alliance. He was talking to a meeting of party workers and obviously, any new leader will tell ‘karyakartas’ the same,” the BJP MLA added.

The BJP and the Shinde-led Shiv Sena are also in a tug of war over how to distribute the 12 seats in the Maharashtra Legislative Council among themselves that are to be nominated by Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari.

“The BJP wants to keep eight seats and give us four. They have more MLAs than us (105:40). But, it is in their benefit to make us stronger as it will help establish us as the real Shiv Sena (instead of the Thackeray faction),” the above mentioned Sena MLA said.

On this, Bhatkhalkar said the “jostling” for seats was a “media-created controversy”. “The governor will take the right call once the cabinet approves and recommends the names,” he claimed.

(Edited by Siddarth Muralidharan)

Also Read: Expanded Maharashtra Cabinet still a two-man show as CM, Dy CM retain plum portfolios

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