Running a coalition government, either in the states or at the Centre is not easy. There are many an example of how they collapsed at the whim of a party. Over time, we are seeing how challenging it is for even larger nationwide parties to sew up alliances, especially when the smaller parties at the states try, and succeed, in calling the shots. In Maharashtra, where the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena have tied up with a 25-23 Lok Sabha seat-sharing arrangement, the alliance is not out of the woods yet. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis — the key point man for the BJP in the state — has now been forced to officially ask his cadre to help the ally Shiv Sena wherever BJP is not contesting.

The directive is more towards ensuring that the Shiv Sena softens up sufficiently to allow the BJP to field Kirit Somaiya from a Mumbai seat. The Sena is not only averse, but has set its face against his candidature because it nurses a grievance: Somaiya has been a battering ram against the Sena, especially in its handling of the Mumbai civic body. One does not yet know what the final choice of the BJP would be for the Mumbai North East seat, but it has been warned explicitly enough that the Sena would not countenance such a nomination. There are sufficient indications that the Sena may encourage a rebel from within its party should Kirit Somaiya be put on the ballot. BJP apparently sees a real risk if, somehow, Sena’s concurrence was obtained.

To massage the Sena into agreeing, the BJP even loaned a candidate of its own to the Sena for the Palghar seat which it was assigned to it, but had no candidate who could get past the post in polling. Yet, the matter has not been resolved to the liking of the BJP. Frankly, it is not the business of the Sena to pressurise an ally about its choice. A national party is being held hostage by a regional party.

This is an unusual situation. In coalition governments, the choice of who the minister should be is of the partner, not of the coalition. Sena withdrew Suresh Prabhu from the Union Cabinet for undisclosed reasons and the prime minister of the time, Atal Bihari Vajpayee had no choice. When Chhagan Bhujbal, deputy chief minister in the Sushilkumar Shinde cabinet had been asked to resign by the NCP, Shinde had to wait for the NCP’s nominee — whoever it was — to fill the vacancy.

Likewise, once the seats are allocated after discussions, one party asks for a change on the perceptions it has about its electability and after assessing which party stood a better chance, it is agreed to. Even this is rare because seats are distributed after assessing each party’s worth in the constituency.