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The meeting with Thackeray comes amid spiralling bitterness, with Sena going all out to wrest the Palghar Lok Sabha seat in a bypoll; its failure to stop BJP has only led to more fulminations. Sena has been insistent in claiming that it will not contest the Lok Sabha elections as BJP’s partner.
While the possibility of such a decision is causing considerable unease in Sena ranks, it will hurt BJP’s bid to outgun an expected alliance of Congress and NCP in Maharashtra that sends 48 MPs to Parliament. Shah is expected to try and heal rifts in the alliance by addressing the issues that Thackeray has raised.
Similarly, ties with Janata Dal (U) and Akalis have been uneven. The SAD and BJP have been drifting for some time since the alliances failed to click in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The differences have widened with the Akalis claiming that BJP needed to be mindful of the needs of its partners.
After a period of calm following Bihar CM Nitish Kumar’s return to the NDA-fold, JD(U) leaders have been seeking to up the ante through statements announcing the primacy of Kumar in Bihar as far as NDA’s 2019 campaign is concerned. There has been tension between the two parties over communal tensions during Ram Navami when some BJP leaders lashed out at Kumar. At a swacch Bharat programme in Champaran recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi strongly endorsed Kumar’s leadership but recent comments point to an early start to the seat-sharing negotiations which will be challenging as JD(U) has only two MPs having contested independently in 2014.
The need to repair relations with major and minor allies — these have also been hit with leaders of smaller outfits also striking discordant notes — has become more urgent after the exit of Telugu Desam Party and the moves of various non-NDA parties to band together as they have done successfully in UP and Karnataka. It is felt that fissures in alliances will cost BJP in terms of perceptions at a time when it should be gathering more support.
The BJP president will meet Thackeray on Wednesday followed by a meeting in Chandigarh with SAD supremo Parkash Singh Badal. This will be first meeting of Shah with the Shiv Sena chief after the two parties fought against each other even as they remain allies at the Centre and in Maharashtra.
Shah’s meeting with the alliance leaders is seen in sync with the growing demand of some of the allies that BJP should be concerned about sustaining the alliance and strengthen it in the wake of the recent bypoll defeats, posing a serious challenge for the next general elections.
Though Sena leaders have repeatedly attacked the BJP leadership, Shah and other party leaders maintained calm terming Sena as an important alliance partner and expressed confidence that the alliance with the two parties will be intact.
BJP general secretary Bhupendra Yadav said Shah was to visit Mumbai to meet prominent citizens and also decided to call on Thackeray, which is not unusual as the two leaders have been meeting.
Sena MP and spokesperson Sanjay Raut said Shah sought time and continued to sound bellicose. “We showed that we can fight alone when we contested the Palghar bypoll. We may have lost, however, the message has been sent across,” he said.
There will be meeting of the alliance in Patna on Thursday where union minister for food and consumer affairs Ram Vilas Paswan is likely to be present along with Kumar and deputy chief minister Sushil Modi.