BJP went into damage-control mode to save its alliance with Shiv Sena after some surprising hard talk by Uddhav Thackeray on Tuesday.
By evening, BJP made it clear that only the Sena was their “trusted ally”. Narendra Modi too spoke to Uddhav late at night to reaffirm BJP's faith in Shiv Sena.
Ravi Shankar Prasad told dna late at night the Sena was an old ally. “We respect Uddhav and are proud of our alliance. We will face the polls with the Mahayuti.”
Earlier in the day, Uddhav chose an-iron-fist-in-a-velvet-glove approach to drive his message across to BJP. Uddhav, who addressed party leaders and Lok Sabha candidates on Tuesday, lashed out at estranged cousin Raj (without naming him), who he said was trying to piggyback on the BJP's prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi to make up for an eroding base. He wanted to know if BJP was willing to strike an unprincipled alliance just for the sake of power.
He sought to soothe frayed tempers of his cadre by stressing that those who were trying to put spokes in the wheels (former BJP chief Nitin Gadkari) did not represent the entire BJP but added a warning to the party — he would be free to decide when the time comes. Without naming Gadkari, Uddhav said his overtures to Raj had confused BJP workers too.
BJP too swung into action to mollify the Sena with BJP's state unit president Devendra Fadnavis meeting Uddhav earlier in the day and stressing that BJP was firmly with the Sena, its natural ally.
Later, BJP's in-charge for Maharashtra, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, flew down from Delhi to meet Uddhav and pacify him. “We made it very very clear that we have a truck only with the Sena and no one else,” Rudy told dna. He met Uddhav at his Bandra residence. Rudy said the Sena was their “trusted ally”. He also said that Uddhav spoke with BJP national president Rajnath Singh over the phone.
The five-party 'Mahayuti' went into a tizzy after Gadkari met Raj and requested him to keep away from contesting the polls to avoid splitting the anti-Congress votes. Raj spurned the offer and announced that his party, MNS, would contest the elections. And if elected, his party MPs would support Modi as the prime minister. While putting up candidates against the Sena, MNS is likely to only pick and choose BJP constituencies.
Sena sources admitted some in the party were intent on breaking the alliance with BJP but added that Uddhav was seeking to mollify them.
“Their politics is finished, they have no plank... or face to seek votes,” said Uddhav, without naming Raj. So, MNS was trying to piggyback on Modi. He said this was aimed at confusing people. If they contest against each other and join hands later, what would be the difference between them and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal or former premier Chandrashekhar who fought against Congress but took the party's support to prop up their governments, he asked.
BJP, which is said to harbour ambitions of replacing the Sena as the dominant ally, is seen as becoming increasingly assertive, especially after Thackeray Sr's death and the rise of Modi on the national stage. Though the Sena has a much wider base than BJP, which is seen as an urbane, upper caste party, the two share a common social and electoral catchment, which one must poach upon to dominate the other.