Even as the Shiv Sena builds pressure on the BJP-led government with t by its ministers ahead of the crucial Mumbai civic polls, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, in an interview to HT, said there is no danger to his government.
In an interview late on Thursday, the chief minister — just back to the city after conducting five rallies across the state — said, “Currently, the Sena is with us in the government. They have not withdrawn support and our government is stable. I will not comment on whether they will pull out. But I can say my government is staying for its full term of five years, for sure.’’ While Fadnavis did not spell it out, he indicated his government would sail with or without the Sena. The CM has also taken resignation threats by Sena ministers on February 18, the last day of campaigning, lightly.
HT had on Friday reported Sena ministers are likely to submit their resignation letters next week to Thackeray to turn up the heat on its friend-turned-foe. “There is no pressure on us. This [offering resignation letters] is generally a ploy, especially if we have a big rally on that particular day to divert attention and run some issue for an entire day in the media,’’ said Fadnavis.
Asked whether the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) was his plan B — in case the Sena pulls out of the government — and if a future alliance is possible with the NCP, Fadnavis only said it was ‘very hypothetical’ at the moment.
Sources close to the CM said he was not worried about his government because he felt the Sena will not pull out. A senior BJP leader said in a worse-case scenario, the party had to only get support of 22-odd legislators, which would not be difficult given that they had as many as 12 ministerial seats (in case the Sena walks out) would be on the offer. The party feels help will be available from many legislators across parties since no one is keen on a mid-term poll.
Elections to civic bodies in 10 cities, including Mumbai and district councils of 25 districts, are being held this month. These elections will cover about 80% of voters in the state and are seen as the mini-assembly polls. With the Fadnavis government approaching its mid-term, the elections are also seen as a referendum on its performance. It is also being held in the backdrop of demonetisation. As such, a lot is at stake for Fadnavis and his party.
It was clear, however, that the chief minister was not keen on antagonising the Sena, which with its 63 legislators is a junior partner to the BJP in the government. The BJP is short of 22 legislators for a clear majority on the floor of the 288-member Assembly.
While the Sena chief has repeatedly ruled out any future alliance with the BJP, including in the 2019 Assembly polls, Fadnavis said it was too early to think about that. “Depending on the circumstances a call will be taken. The Sena continues to be our partner at the state level. Even if they say there is no connection, on Hindutva as an ideology we are still on the same plank. Now, what is their Hindutva and ours can be debated.’’
The CM, however, ruled out a post-poll alliance in the Mumbai civic body, saying he was confident the BJP would come to power on its own.
The Sena broke its alliance with BJP for the Mumbai civic polls after 15 years after feeling threatened by the BJP’s alleged move on its ‘citadel’. While Sena chief Thackeray is fighting for his party’s survival on his home turf, Fadnavis is fighting a bigger battle to expand his party’s footprint in the state.
Sources close to both the parties, however, said the government’s future and the alliance will be decided only after the results of the state’s mini-assembly polls as well as results of the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls. Unofficially, both the parties have not ruled out a post-poll alliance in the Mumbai civic polls.
The strategies of both the parties and their bargaining powers will be decided once all the results and cards are opened.