The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is finding it hard to make a correct political assessment of its new ally, the Eknath Shinde faction of the Shiv Sena, especially whether it is an asset or a liability, ahead of the Lok Sabha and the state assembly elections. This has become clear after it has started to win over dissidents in rival Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) camps.

The BJP’s distrust of the Eknath Shinde faction has also alerted the rebel Shiv Sena Members of Parliament and legislators. They are now mounting pressure on the BJP high command to treat their party as the “real, original Shiv Sena and thus leave the Lok Sabha and the Assembly seats accordingly.”

In Mumbai, senior Shiv Sena (Shinde faction) leader and the sitting Lok Sabha member Gajanan Kirtikar was quoted in the media as saying “We are now part of the NDA,yet we are not treated on par with the others . We must get more funds and egalitarian treatment.”

At a meeting of the Shiv Sena MPs held in Mumbai a few days ago, the parliamentarians told the Chief Minister Eknath Shinde that they would not play second fiddle to the BJP. Kirtikar was quoted by a section of the media saying, “a resolution was passed that the Shindeled Shiv Sena will contest 22 out of 48 seats (of the Lok Sabha seats in the state) as per the traditional BJP-Shiv Sena seat sharing formula.”

Besides, 13 MPs who rebelled against the Shiv Sena led by Uddhav Thackeray and joined the Shinde camp in June-July last, want that their own seats should not be disturbed during the seat sharing talks under the pretext of ‘winnability’. They also want that the remaining five seats, and four others, namely Raigad, Shirur ,Aurangabad, Amravati which were lost by the undivided Shiv Sena (Uddhav), should also be left to the Shinde faction, explained Kirtikar.

The Shinde faction has become active after realising that the BJP wants to win a maximum number of seats from Maharashtra at any cost. This is the second largest state, after Uttar Pradesh, as far as Lok Sabha seats are concerned, to ensure a third term for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

This means the BJP cannot afford to ignore the Shinde faction on one hand, and at the same time it cannot solely rely on it. This is because the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) led by the veteran leader Sharad Pawar, has already started identifying winnable candidates in all 48 seats.

And the BJP too is not lagging behind, as its senior central leaders including union ministers, are regularly visiting Lok Sabha constituencies allotted to them in the state, and making the ground assessment of its electoral prospects. The BJP is even preparing to fight all seats even without the Shinde faction, and thus working on its ‘Plan B’ for the state.

In political circles, the Shinde faction is not seen as a serious player in the state. First, most of its MPs are facing the anti-incumbency factor; second, they are facing Enforcement Directorate inquiries (that began before their rebellion); third , they are not seen as strong leaders of their caste’ and fourth, they cannot win on their own if the BJP presses for fresh faces in their (Shinde faction) seats. This situation could weaken Eknath Shinde even as chief of his faction.

As per the original plan, Eknath Shinde’s main job was to weaken the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena. But this has given the expected results despite desertions from the Shiv Sena (Uddhav). This is because the Maha Vikas Aghadi remained intact even after losing power.

Now Uddhav Thackeray is getting sympathy from the people. This has upset the BJP’s calculations. The Maha Vikas Aghadi’s victory in the Assembly bypolls, the Legislative Council elections, the Congress’s victory in Karnataka, and Sharad Pawar’s master stroke of announcing to quitting the post of party president and latter taking the decision back, showed his friends and foes in the Maharashtra politics, who is the boss.

Pawar also told his party leaders bluntly that he would not ally with the BJP and those who want to go are free to leave. This is strengthening the Mahav Vikas Aghadi on one hand, and disturbing the top brass of the BJP ,on the other.

The BJP’s tactics of using the ED, the CBI, the PMLA, and income tax department, against rivals may deliver results but politically it could be counterproductive in the election season. Political leaders in the state are aware that the BJP is not going to gain in West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Maharashtra due to changing political situations.

And in Maharashtra, the BJP and the Shinde faction will have to seek votes in the name of Narendra Modi whose home state Gujarat took away big projects from Maharashtra.They (Modi-Amit Shah) are seen as anti Maharashtra, and anti-Marathi. In fact, Uddhav Thackeray has been building a campaign on it.

While Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena could give a tough fight to the BJP in Mumbai, Thane, Konkan and part of Marathwada region, the NCP would not allow the BJP to gain in western Maharashtra, part of Marathwada and north Maharashtra regions. The Congress stands to gain in the Vidarbha region where the BJP has become a divided house, under the banner of Maha Vikas Aghadi.