In a politically significant gesture, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis cut short his tour of Washim in Vidarbha to visit Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray at his residence - Matoshree - on Thursday evening.
The BJP has extended an olive branch to its sulking ally in the light of the Opposition cobbling up alliances to turn the tables on the ruling party in the Lok Sabha polls. The meeting was also attended by Chandrakant Patil, senior BJP leader, and Subhash Desai, Shiv Sena legislator and State Industries Minister.
Negotiations on seat sharing are still going on, although sources have told NDTV that a 23:25 formula is the only way for the alliance to move forward into the Lok Sabha elections. The Shiv Sena wants 23 of the 48 seats in Maharashtra - leaving 25 for the BJP - as its condition for joining hands ahead of the upcoming election.
The Uddhav Thackeray-led party is also demanding a "respectable" seat-sharing deal for the assembly polls later this year, and wants to finalise that along with the Lok Sabha arrangement. Negotiations are becoming particularly hard in view of the Shiv Sena wanting to increase its clout in the state at a time when the BJP has emerged as its single-largest party.
Apart from the demands on seat sharing, the Shiv Sena also wants a guarantee that the Ram Temple would be constructed in Ayodhya; waiver of property tax for houses under 500 sq ft in Mumbai and Thane; and 100% unconditional farm loan waiver as pre-conditions for joining forces. "Discussions on these demands will be held soon," a top party leader said.
Although the Shiv Sena had earlier decided to fight alone, it now maintains that forming a political alliance at this juncture would not be a climbdown. According to sources, Uddhav Thackeray has asked the BJP to give up its "big brother attitude" and treat his party like an equal partner.
The Chief Minister termed the alliance talks as "positive". "I met Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray to talk about the alliance, but due to the Pulwama attack (in Jammu and Kashmir), we kept our discussion short," he said.
This is the first instance of formal talks being held, although back-channel negotiations had been going on ever since the Shiv Sena threatened to go solo in 2019.
These developments come amid reports of the Nationalist Congress Party pushing the Congress to include Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) in their anti-BJP front in the state. Sources say that the Congress is reluctant because the MNS' anti-migrant rhetoric clashes with its own intention of pushing an inclusive agenda at the national level.