The Sena scheduled a meeting for November 9 — a day before the three-day special Assembly session for the confidence vote — at Uddhav Thackeray’s home to take the final decision on whether to join the BJP-led government or claim the leader of Opposition’s post.
Over an hour later, chief minister Fadnavis said the expansion of his team would take place only after the BJP had proved its majority in the October 12 vote. The statement was seen an indication to the Sena that it should declare unconditional support to the BJP-led government before seeking assurances on berths.
Sources said the negotiations were revolving around the Sena’s demand that one of its MLAs be made deputy chief minister. The BJP is reportedly ready to offer the Sena 10 berths but loath to have a deputy to Fadnavis, fearing it could become a parallel power centre.
“Cabinet expansion is the prerogative of the chief minister. If he has said he will expand it after proving his majority, it is his point of view. What can we say about it? The talks between us have been progressing positively,” Sena Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut said, asked about the chief minister’s statement.
On whether the Sena risked losing the Leader of Opposition’s post as it tried to bargain for a suitable share in power, Raut said: “The Shiv Sena has always taken risks. Our politics has been one of risk-taking.”
Raut denied suggestions the Sena leadership was divided on backing the government or sitting in the Opposition. “There are no two opinions. Whatever Uddhav Thackeray finally decides will be the path of the Shiv Sena.”
Sources said the Sena — the second largest party in the Assembly with 63 members — did not want to lose the leader of Opposition’s post if it decided not to join the government. If it does, the Congress, with 42 MLAs, can get the post.
After initially insisting on a 1995 formula — when the allies first came to power in the state — and key portfolios, the Sena is learnt to have come round to a 2:1 ratio on berths proposed by the BJP, which has 121 MLAs.
However, statehood for Vidarbha is non-negotiable for the Sena, which is opposed to the BJP’s plan for carving out the region.
An editorial in Sena mouthpiece Saamna slammed Fadnavis for saying in Nagpur that Vidarbha would be carved out “at an appropriate time” and reminded him that as chief minister he should emphasise on keeping the state united instead of weakening it. “The BJP has performed well in Vidarbha but nobody should misunderstand that it was a verdict for dividing Maharashtra.”