Ending days of speculation, Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray will attend Narendra Modi's swearing-in ceremony in New Delhi on Monday where party MP Anant Geete will be sworn-in as the sole cabinet minister from the Sena's quota.
However, there is no clarity on the number of ministerial berths that the Sena may get. In 1999, the Shiv Sena, which had 15 MPs, had three ministers and the post of the Lok Sabha speaker. This time, with 18 MPs, its best performance so far, the Sena wants a larger share.
Earlier, there were speculations on whether Uddhav and his MPs would attend the function and if Sena representatives would be sworn-in due to factors like uneasiness over Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif's presence and the BJP adopting a big-brother attitude and seeking to slight its oldest and most natural ally in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
Geete, who is a six-term MP, and turned out to be giant killer of sorts, having trounced former chief minister and then union minister Abdul Rehman Antulay in 2004 from Raigad and later, water resources minister Sunil Tatkare of the NCP in a three-cornered fight, told dna that he would be the only Sena man taking oath of office.
Geete, the power minister during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led BJP regime, confirmed that Uddhav would attend the ceremony and added that other Sena ministers will be sworn-in when the cabinet was expanded later.
Though the Sena was uneasy at Sharif's presence at the ceremony—it is opposed to sports and cultural ties with Pakistan at a time when the neighboring country is sponsoring terrorism in India – party leaders said the hesitation was also because of an increasingly imposing BJP.
Sena sources added that the BJP was seeking to be over-assertive on issues like a larger share of seats in the forthcoming assembly polls, laying claim to the chief minister's post, mooting a separate state of Vidarbha, and attempting to replace the Sena, which has a wider social and political base, as the dominant alliance partner.
Apart from chances of getting lesser cabinet berths at the Centre, the Sena is also said to be upset at the BJP reviving its shatapratishat BJP (100% BJP) slogan after the five-party Mahayuti's landslide victory in Maharashtra, where it cornered 42 of 48 seats and attempts by BJP leaders to repeatedly rub it in that the Sena benefited from the Modi wave.
"Did the Shiv Sena constantly remind the BJP that it benefited from Balasaheb's charisma in the past?" questioned an irate Sena source, adding that slighting them could cost the BJP dearly in the Maharashtra assembly polls later this year.
"Though there was a Modi wave now, the Sena had 11 MPs in 2009 and 12 MPs in 2004," he pointed out, adding that the BJP had also benefited due to the support of the Sena rank and file. "This win was like a windfall for the BJP, they cannot afford to alienate allies in the long-run," the Sena source claimed, pointing to how the Shiv Sena was the second largest party after the BJP in the NDA.
A Shiv Sena MP, who was with Uddhav when they visited the shrine of Bharadidevi at Anganewadi in Sindhudurg, confirmed they were heading to Delhi for the swearing-in. While BJP and NDA leaders were lobbying for berths, Uddhav was visiting shrines like those of Bharadidevi and the Thackeray family deity – Goddess Ekvira at Karla with MPs.
"Pakistan has repeatedly violated the ceasefire on the border... Maybe Modi had to reach out to SAARC countries as part of international protocol," said a Sena MP, adding that despite Sharif attending Modi's swearing-in, questions like whether Pakistan could reign in state and non-state actors working against India, would persist. He pointed to how Modi was seen as a hardliner on issues of national security.
However, the Shiv Sena was part of the BJP led NDA dispensation when Vajpayee visited Lahore and when Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf visited India.