Former BJP national president Nitin Gadkari's meeting with MNS chief Raj Thackeray has created turmoil within the Shiv Sena-BJP led 'Mahayuti' (grand alliance) with the Sena warning that such overtures may affect their alliance in the Lok Sabha polls.
Over lunch at a five-star hotel on Monday, Gadkari requested the MNS chief to desist from contesting the Lok Sabha polls to prevent a split in the anti-incumbency vote.
In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the MNS contested 12 seats and the vote-split led to the Sena-BJP's defeat in nine seats. However, Gadkari's outreach did not go down well with the Sena.
"There is unease in Maharashtra. We have launched a front against Raj Thackeray and (NCP chief) Sharad Pawar. However, if senior BJP leaders talk to them and openly support them, this will affect fortunes of our grand alliance," warned Sena Rajya Sabha MP and spokesperson Sanjay Raut, adding that the MNS was not welcome in the Mahayuti.
"The Shiv Sena and BJP will defeat the Congress-NCP in Maharashtra," said Raut, adding that the MNS was a "closed chapter."
"Uddhav Thackeray made an attempt (at reconciliation)... since there was no response, the chapter is closed," said Raut, adding that Maharashtrian votes were firmly with the Sena.
After the Sena made its anger clear, BJP Maharashtra chief Devendra Fadnavis met Uddhav late on Monday wherein Uddhav is said to have minced no words and insisted that the BJP's decision regarding Maharashtra be taken only by senior leader and former deputy chief minister Gopinath Munde, who is Gadkari's rival in the BJP.
On Tuesday, the Sena mouthpiece Saamna which has Uddhav as the editor, front paged a statement by him criticising the "communication gap" in the BJP.
A senior BJP leader admitted that they could not afford to ally with the MNS considering the adverse impact in the Hindi belt due to Raj's anti-migrant stance. He added that they could bank on Raj to support the BJP's prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi if MNS MPs were elected.
An Uddhav aide pointed out that Gadkari's outreach to Raj was part of a larger BJP plan to contain the Sena and replace it as the dominant partner in the alliance. The BJP is already the principal opposition in the two Houses of the legislature.
"It's easy to bridge political differences but not family or personal ones. Uddhav and Raj may never like to work together. However, Raj may lose miserably in the Lok Sabha polls as much of his charisma seems to have worn off," he added.
The MNS is likely to announce its stance on March 9 — its eighth foundation day. MNS MLA Bala Nandgaonkar said a decision would be taken by Raj himself and claimed that the MNS had a ready list of Lok Sabha candidates for Maharashtra.
A Sena source said repeated overtures by the BJP to the MNS were creating confusion among the cadres. "There is little chance of Uddhav and Raj allying now. Uddhav wants to show that he has established his leadership after Balasaheb's death while Raj wants to project himself as the real inheritor of his uncle's legacy," he added.