Maharashtra: Sena sits at table with Congress and NCP for a common agenda

Sandeep A Ashar
From left: Cong’s Vijay Waddetiwar, Prithviraj Chavan, Sena’s Eknath Shinde, NCP’s Jayant Patil, Sena’s Subhash Desai, Cong’s Manikrao Thakre, NCP’s Nawab Malik and Chhagan Bhujbal at the meeting in Mumbai on Thursday.

A day after Union Home Minister and BJP national president Amit Shah blamed Shiv Sena for the collapse of their pre-poll alliance, the Sena Thursday took another step towards forming a government with the Congress and NCP by attending the first joint meeting of the three parties to evolve a common minimum programme (CMP).

The Sena’s legislative party leader Eknath Shinde, who attended the meeting, said that “a draft of the CMP had been readied, which will be shared with the leadership of the three parties”.

WATCH | Fadnavis vs Thackeray in Maharashtra: BJP-Shiv Sena tussle intensifies over CM seat

Sources said the Congress and NCP obtained an assurance from the Sena that it was not opposed in principle to 5 per cent reservation for Muslims in education. The scheme was initiated by the Congress-NCP during its previous government but was not implemented by the BJP-Sena regime that came later.

The parties also discussed other differences, including the Sena’s demand for Bharat Ratna to Veer Savarkar, sources said.


Bumpy road for Sena

The Congress, Shiv Sena and NCP have taken the first big step together to evolve a common agenda. But the road ahead is bumpy, especially for the Sena and its Hindutva core. The NCP and Congress have already sought assurances on the welfare of minorities — and the Sena’s response will be key.

Some of the key poll promises made by the two sides in their respective manifestos — blanket farm loan waiver, Rs 10-meal outlets, monthly allowance for unemployed youth, and a job quota for locals in new industries — are also likely to be part of the CMP.

Leaders from the three parties also circulated photographs of the joint meeting as part of a joint strategy to send a message that they were coming to power in a bid to avoid defections. The CMP is meant to “soften hard edges” and “angularities”, a senior leader said.

EXPLAINED | BJP and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra: History of a difficult relationship

According to sources, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and NCP chief Sharad Pawar will be meeting in Delhi on November 17-18 for further talks regarding joining hands with the Sena led by Uddhav Thackeray.

Incidentally, the Sena observes November 17 as ‘Smriti Din’ to mark the death anniversary of party founder Bal Thackeray.

On Wednesday, breaking his silence over the logjam in Maharashtra, Shah had said that the Sena’s demand for rotational chief ministership was not acceptable to the BJP. He had also rejected Sena’s claim that the BJP had committed to a 50:50 share in power, including the CM post.

The pre-poll alliance between the BJP and the Sena had secured an absolute majority in the Assembly polls, but their post-election power tussle saw the state slip into President’s rule this week.

On Thursday, Sena deputed Shinde and senior leader Subhash Desai for the first round of joint talks over the CMP. For the Congress, former Chief Ministers Prithviraj Chavan and Sushilkumar Shinde, former party president Manikrao Thakre and senior MLA Vijay Waddetiwar were present. The NCP nominated its Maharashtra chief Jayant Patil, former deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal, and Mumbai party president Nawab Malik.

Earlier in the day, NCP’s Patil and Congress’s state chief Balasaheb Thorat met the Sena chief to hold preliminary talks on government formation, sources said. The three sides have agreed that the only way to provide a stable non-BJP formation is for all of them to join the government.