The Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party are all set to launch their Lok Sabha election campaign with a joint rally on March 24 in Kolhapur.
Following that, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will share the stage with Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray in another rally in Maharashtra.
BJP national president Amit Shah, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, Union home minister Rajnath Singh and Union minister Nitin Gadkari will also campaign for the BJP and Sena alliance.
According to a Sena functionary, the Kolhapur rally will be the first of several joint rallies of the allies. Before the mega rally, where around three lakh supporters are expected to come, the two parties have planned smaller meetings of their senior functionaries starting on March 15.
“The Kolhapur rally is where both parties will kick off the campaign. Uddhav ji and the CM will seek the blessings at the temple in Kolhapur before the rally. There will be other joint rallies where PM Modi, Amit Shah, Yogi Adityanath, Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari will come and campaign in Maharashtra. The dates of these public meetings are yet to be decided,” the functionary said.
Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis along with senior BJP leaders Chandrakant Patil and Sudhir Mungantiwar met Uddhav Thackeray at his residence late on Tuesday night to chalk out the campaign plan and finalise the seats. Senior Sena leaders Subhash Desai and Aaditya Thackeray along with Sena secretary Milind Narvekar were present in the two-hour meeting.
In the run-up to the mega rally, the Sena and BJP have planned public meetings in Amravati and Nagpur on March 15. This will be followed by more meetings in Aurangabad and Nashik on March 17 and Navi Mumbai and Pune on March 18.
“This is in line with the decision taken at the dinner at Varsha (chief ministers’ residence) that there is a need to get the party workers and functionaries together. At these joint meetings they will speak about the schemes and policies of the government,” the functionary added.
The leaders of both parties also discussed the seats and probable candidates. As per the seat-sharing agreement, the BJP will contest on 25 seats while Sena fight from 23 for the 48 Lok Sabha constituencies in Maharashtra.
Contentious issues such as Sena workers not willing to campaign for BJP lawmaker Kirit Somaiya and Sena MLA from Jalna Arjun Khotkar, who wants to contest against the BJP’s Raosaheb Danve, did not come up in the meeting.
“There will be no change or seat swapping between Sena and BJP,” the functionary said.
In 2014, the BJP contested 24 Lok Sabha seats and the Uddhav Thackeray-led Sena 20. The BJP won 23 seats and the Sena 18.
The Sena-BJP alliance fell apart in the assembly elections held in 2014 after the BJP refused to accept the Sena as the senior partner in the state. They fought separately and the BJP fielded candidates in 260 out of 288 assembly seats; the Sena contested 282 seats. The former won 122 and the latter 63.
They came together after the election to form the government in Maharashtra, but the relationship remained strained.
The parties contested separately in the subsequent local body elections and the BJP dominated the local polls, winning 15 out of the 27 big city corporations in the state. The Sena retained control of Mumbai but managed to win just two more seats than the BJP in the city.
The western state will vote in four phases on April 11, April 18, April 23 and April 29. Votes will be counted on May 23.
The assembly election is supposed to be held six months after the Lok Sabha polls.