Mumbai: Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis does not think that the Shiv Sena will act on its threat to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections on its own. In an exclusive interview to NDTV, Chief Minister Fadnavis said the Shiv Sena is "quite wise" and understands that it would be a bigger loser than the BJP if they were to contest the elections separately.
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"What I really feel is that saying and doing are two different things in politics," Mr Fadnavis said. The Chief Minister had last year told the Shiv Sena to stop playing the roles of a ruling party and an opposition at the same time but the warning did not stop its alliance partner from flinging barbs at the BJP.
This week, the Shiv Sena's national executive decided to go solo in the Lok Sabha and assembly elections scheduled in 2019 and asked people to vote out the Narendra Modi government in the next round. But till then, the Sena hinted that it may not divorce its partner of 25 years.
Mr Fadnavis, who was in Davos to attract foreign investors to Maharashtra, told NDTV that his party was "ready for any eventuality" but underlined that Shiv Sena would have to pay a heavier price if it were to walk out of the alliance.
"They will change their mind," Mr Fadnavis said.
"Just tell me. If Congress and NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) come together and BJP and Shiv Sena are fighting apart, will that only damage BJP's votes? It will damage them badly, much worse that what it will damage us. I think they are quite wise politically," he said.
"They (Shiv Sena) will be the worst losers," Mr Fadnavis said.
The BJP and the Shiv Sena have been allies since the early 90s, but their relations have been at a prolonged breakpoint ever since the BJP emerged as Maharashtra's number one party in the 2014 national election, winning the most parliament seats in the state and then months later became the single largest party in 288-member Maharashtra assembly with 122 seats.
It reversed their longstanding position of the Sena as senior partner, which the party has found difficult to live down. The Sena's attacks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's central policies and Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis have been become more frequent, often delivered in scathing editorials in its mouthpiece Saamana.
The BJP continued its winning streak in the 2017 municipal elections in Mumbai where it emerged as the largest party by a small margin but let the Shiv Sena take the Mayor's post. Neither of them had the numbers to rule the corporation, the richest in the country, on its own.
Mr Fadnavis also made an oblique reference to previous instances when the Shiv Sena had contested elections on its own but then ended up, after the election results, joining the alliance.
"For past three years, I have experience of Sena says many things. But in politics, it is not what you decide, it is what people decide. And it is what circumstances decide. So let us see," he said, recalling that the Shiv Sena did go solo before the 2014 assembly election.
Back then, the Shiv Sena and BJP weren't the only alliance partners who could not agree on a seat-sharing formula. Just weeks before assembly elections, the NCP had also exited the Congress-led government and contested the elections alone.
But in recent months, there have been reports of some narrowing the gap between the two former allies. Mr Pawar has, more than once, showered praise on the new Congress president and declared that the central government "was getting scared of Rahul Gandhi".
In November last year, the NCP leader had also left the door open for renewing the alliance. "Earlier also, we went for this government together and ruled over 15 years, even now if there's a room for it, then yes," Mr Pawar said.
The two parties will be together at a march in Mumbai today, originally called by social activists, which is being seen as another attempt at building a united opposition front to take on the BJP in parliament and test the ground for a coalition for the 2019 national elections.