Back from the brink: Shiv Sena, BJP leaders say alliance intact

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After a day of high drama, the Shiv Sena and BJP coalition, which was under intense strain over seat-sharing for the assembly polls, pulled itself back from the brink on Friday. However, sources said that the friction may hurt both the parties' prospects in the polls.

The Sena had offered the BJP the same number of seats (119) it contested in 2009 and the party was asked to leave aside nine seats from its share for their four allies, with the Sena contributing an equal number from its share of 169 seats.

This led to frayed tempers in the BJP, and the party's core committee spurned the formula, asking for a re-think. However, Yuva Sena chief Aaditya Thackeray met BJP elections in-charge Om Mathur to break the ice.

"The alliance is in place... That (discord) keeps happening in any family. We are part of a family, bound by ideology," said Aaditya, who was accompanied by senior leaders. He was though evasive on BJP's demand for more seats. BJP leaders met Uddhav and senior Sena leaders late on Friday night to discuss the seat-sharing formula.

Former BJP state unit chief Sudhir Mungantiwar said they wanted discussions on the 59 seats that have never been won by the Sena in past 25 years as well as 19 constituencies where the BJP has been defeated in the past. "We want to discuss each seat," said Mungantiwar.

While listing out instances where the Sena had strayed from the BJP in the past, like the two successive presidential polls where they supported the Congress, Mungantiwar and leader of the opposition Eknath Khadse stressed that they wanted to keep the alliance intact. Khadse pointed to how the BJP had given up six Lok Sabha and one Rajya Sabha seats for the Shiv Sena and stressed on the need for their ally to reciprocate.

BJP leaders admit that the Sena outwitted them by delaying the discussions till the announcement of the polls to ensure that the BJP could not drive a hard bargain. Moreover, the small window between sealing the alliance and voting (October 15) will leave little space for campaign, they added.

The BJP conveyed to the Sena that it was unwilling to fight less than 130 seats, according to party sources in Delhi. Ready to face "any eventuality", the BJP asked its Maharashtra unit to be prepared to go it alone in a situation where the Shiv Sena turned it down and stuck to the old formula.

In the BJP leadership's assessment, a split could trigger similar troubles in the Congress- NCP, where matters are already complicated over the later's demand for 50% seats. This could lead to a five-cornered contest in Maharashtra with the parties fighting independently.

At a press conference in Delhi, when asked about the negotiations, union minister Prakash Javadekar said he hoped good sense would prevail in Shiv Sena. The BJP central election committee is expected to meet on Sunday to decide on candidates.

"There is no chance of the yuti (alliance) falling apart," claimed a Sena source, adding that the party may eventually hand over around 125 seats to the BJP. "This squabbling sends a bad message to the masses but we have little options. The BJP was trying to dominate us," he complained.

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