Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a massive rally in Nashik on the concluding day of the Maha Jan Aadesh Yatra, the outreach programme launched by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis last month to present a report card to voters across Maharashtra ahead of elections scheduled next month. With a stalemate on seat sharing talks between the Shiv Sena and the BJP, the tone of the Prime Minister's speech set the tone of the campaign in Maharashtra, leading many to speculate about an imminent breakup between the two parties. However, officially there is still no word on how Maharashtra's 288 Assembly seats will be split between the two parties.
The Ram Mandir issue has been something that the BJP's ally, the Shiv Sena has been talking about a lot, including party chief Uddhav Thackeray. Speaking in Nashik, the PM said, "I have been watching that for the last few days some motor mouths have been talking rubbish about Ram Mandir issue. Every citizen of this country should have faith in the Supreme Court and the process is on in the Supreme Court. I am surprised at how these motor mouths jump in. With folded hands I appeal to them to keep quiet for the sake of Lord Ram."
The Prime Minister bringing up the Ram Mandir issue as Maharashtra heads into elections is being seen as a move to address the BJP's core base's impatience about the poll promise of the BJP and also perhaps a veiled message to cantankerous ally Shiv Sena, which has often accused the BJP of being slow when it comes to building a Ram Mandir at Ayodhya. Shiv Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray had asked Sainiks to be ready to lay the first brick for the Ram Temple there.
The question many are asking is was the PM referring to the Shiv Sena? If that's the case then there are now serious questions on the Sena-BJP alliance and its longevity. The two parties had fought separately in 2014 assembly elections but the BJP failed to get a majority of its own leading to a post-election patch up. The BJP emerged as the number one party in Maharashtra and the Shiv Sena often criticized the BJP before announcing it would go solo in 2019. But again there was a patch up before the 2019 Lok Sabha election after Amit Shah, Devendra Fadnavis and Uddhav Thackeray met and struck a deal. It is that deal that seems to have now become a tussle as the Sena wants to stick to the agreed formula.
The Shiv Sena says the alliance is still on while Sena minister Diwakar Raote has said that there will be no alliance if the 50-50 formula that was agreed upon is not followed. Shiv Sena MP and spokesperson, Sanjay Raut told NDTV, "I don't think there is any problem. There are some issues always on seats. During Lok Sabha elections we had decided on a 50-50 formula. Amit Shah, Devendra Fadnavis and Uddhav Thackeray were there where it was decided and it was always there in public domain."
However, sources in the BJP say with its current position in the state the Sena should get nothing more than 115 seats and the Sena is unwilling to accept anything less than 144 of the 288 seats. And that might lead to a situation where the parties may fight separately again.
The Prime Minister also referred to the responsibility associated with the head gear associated with Maratha Warrior King Chatrapati Shivaji, which Shivaji's descendant Udayanraje Bhosale presented to the Prime Minister. Udayanraje Bhisale quit the NCP and joined the BJP just days ago and this is being seen as an attempt by the BJP to appropriate the legacy of the warrior king, after whom the Shiv Sena is named.
On a familiar note, the Prime Minister accused the biggest Opposition leader in the state of appeasement politics and helping Pakistan, something that is likely to be often used as the campaign progresses. "I understand the Congress's confusion but Sharad Pawar? You are an experienced politician and when you speak nonsense for votes it's sad. Sharad Pawar likes our neighbour. But the entire country and world knows which place is the factory of terror," the Prime Minister said.