Maharashtra BJP leaders will arrive in Mumbai on Monday hoping for a fresh round of talks with the Sena leadership, party sources said. Both the meetings, which went on for over three hours, were attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, who spent some time together separately, and other leaders.
Both in Delhi and in Mumbai, BJP and Sena shortlisted candidates for next month's polls but refrained from announcing the list, awaiting the outcome of last ditch efforts to avoid split in the alliance.
"It was decided that efforts should be made to ensure that there is a respectable and mature understanding on seat- sharing and the alliance is kept intact. BJP wants to go to the polls along with Sena and other alliance partners," BJP in-charge for Maharashtra Rajiv Pratap Rudy told reporters after the marathon meeting of the party's Central Election Committee (CEC).
The CEC is understood to have shortlisted 120 candidates out of a list of over 180 candidates that were discussed.
This was followed by an informal meeting of the BJP Parliamentary Board to discuss the strategy in the wake of Thackeray pegging seats for BJP at 119.
Shah is believed to have spoken to Thackeray in the midst of the BJP meets, but there was no official word on it. Some BJP leaders made it clear that the party was ready to fight the polls on its own if Sena is unrelenting.
Hours after Thackeray's tough talk on seat-sharing, BJP told its old alliance partner that it was the duty of both the parties to continue the tie-up and sort out issues instead of going through the media, in remarks directed at the Sena chief.
Squabbling over seat-sharing showed no signs of resolution during the day with both the alliance partners waiting to see who will blink first.
BJP said that there is ‘nothing new’ in Sena's final offer and hoped seat-sharing issue can be mutually settled.
In Mumbai, Shiv Sena made it clear that it won't make any more concession for BJP, offering to cede it only 119 out of the total 288 seats in Maharashtra Assembly and said this was ‘the final attempt’ to break the logjam over seat-sharing. BJP has climbed down to 130 seats from its earlier demand for 135.
The Sena chief also reminded Modi that late Sena supremo Bal Thackeray had backed him in the aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat riots.
"Today I am making a final attempt to ensure that the Mahayuti (grand alliance of opposition parties) stays intact. Sena had initially asked for 160 seats. But now we are ready to part with nine seats. Shiv Sena will fight on 151 seats, leaving 119 seats for BJP. The remaining 18 seats will be given to our allies," Thackeray said.
Suggesting a way out to end the standoff, BJP leaders of opposition in Maharashtra Assembly and Legislative Council Eknath Khadse and Vinod Tawde said that the party wants Sena to re-negotiate on such seats that they never won in the last 25 years, so that they are not given to the NCP-Congress alliance on a platter in the upcoming polls.
"There is nothing new in the latest Shiv Sena offer as BJP has been contesting 119 seats ever since the alliance came into being. We want the alliance to continue. It is the duty of both Shiv Sena and BJP to maintain the alliance. We have 25 year-old ties and seat-sharing issue can be sorted out mutually through face to face talks and not through media (TV)," Tawde told reporters in a hurriedly convened press conference.
Khadse said, "Shiv Sena has been losing on 59 seats while we have been losing on 19, if these were to be re-allocated then we would all benefit instead of these seats going automatically to Congress-NCP alliance."
"Many such seats had been lost by narrow margin in the previous elections. That was the thought and mindset behind the proposal for the 135 seats," he said.
BJP and Sena leaders said, "The process is still underway to keep the alliance intact.”
Khadse said that it is the time for Shiv Sena to make "some sacrifices" as BJP has been making "sacrifices" in the past for winning the elections and saving the alliance.
He cited the example of BJP giving six more Lok Sabha seats to Shiv Sena in the recent elections.
"This has resulted in BJP contesting on 26 seats, down from 32 it contested in the past."
Though there is pressure from the cadres from the state to go it alone in the polls, the BJP wants to continue with the alliance, Khadse said.
On being asked if time was running out for further negotiations, Tawde said we can talk during 24 to 48 hours.
Maharashtra core group of BJP was huddled together at the party head-quarters since morning holding discussions on the issue of seat-sharing with Shiv Sena.
Maharashtra BJP leaders will arrive in Mumbai on Monday hoping for a fresh round of talks with the Sena leadership, party sources said.
Both the meetings, which went on for over three hours, were attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, who spent some time together separately, and other leaders.