The differences between the Shiv Sena and BJP over the distribution of portfolios seem to be coming to a head. Miffed at being given what he called a relatively insignificant heavy industries and public enterprises portfolio, Shiv Sena's Anant Geete, who is the party's sole cabinet member, did not take charge of his department till late Tuesday evening.
"We have made a demand (for the portfolio to be changed). Uddhavji will take a decision (on him taking charge of his ministry)," Geete told dna from Delhi.
Geete, the power minister in the erstwhile Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government, who met Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray on Tuesday, is expected to speak to PM Narendra Modi on the issue. Shiv Sena – the second largest party in the NDA after the BJP – was seeking at least four ministerial berths considering that the assembly polls are due later this year and also because the party cornered 18 seats in its best performance so far.
Sena sources said the Sena was miffed with the big-brother attitude of the BJP, which has set its sights on a larger share of seats in Maharashtra and consequently, the chief minister's chair.
"The BJP let us down despite us being their oldest ally in thick and thin. Numerically, we are number two in the NDA and hence, deserve due respect," said a Sena MP, adding that even Uddhav was miffed.
In the previous NDA government, the Sena had three ministerial posts with crucial portfolios like power, environment and forests, heavy industries and ministers of state for finance, and the post of the Lok Sabha speaker.
The Sena leader pointed out that the NCP had three ministerial berths in UPA-II despite having a strength of just eight MPs. The Sena, on the other hand, despite having the second-highest bench strength in the NDA, has been treated at par with smaller allies like the Shiromani Akali Dal (4), Lok Janshakti Party (six) and the Telugu Desam Party (16). Moreover, the TDP has been given the crucial civil aviation portfolio. "This has led to severe anger," said the Sena MP, pointing to how LJP chief Ramvilas Paswan had quit the NDA protesting against the 2002 Gujarat riots which occurred under Modi's watch.
Incidentally, the heavy industries ministry has often in the past been given to Maharashtra ministers, including Manohar Joshi, Subodh Mohite (both Sena) and later former CM Vilasrao Deshmukh (Congress) and Praful Patel (NCP).
"If the BJP plays funny with the Shiv Sena, Modi's popularity may decline in Maharashtra. The Shiv Sena can never be underestimated," said another Shiv Sena MP.
The Sena is also upset at the BJP reviving its shatapratishat BJP (100% BJP) slogan after the five-party coalition 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. Sena leaders point out that they had never chosen to constantly remind the BJP that it benefited from the late Thackeray Sr's charisma in the past.
In the 2009 assembly polls, the Sena had contested 169 seats as against 119 for the BJP, and won just 44 of them as against the latter's 46. The Sena lost its status as the principal opposition party in the two houses of the legislature to its ally.
The Shiv Sena and BJP tied up in 1989 after an electorally unsuccessful attempt in 1985 and the saffron allies, who had one shot at power in the state, from 1995 to 1999, have stayed together despite the highs and lows in their relationship.