The Cong-NCP-Sena alliance for a Government is based on a seasonal hatred of the BJP. Can numbers work?
Maharashtra is no Karnataka, where a hung verdict had led to political machinations and a power surge of convenience. Yet in a shape-shifting scenario of permutations and combinations, Government formation is turning out to be a bizarre prospect despite a decisive electoral verdict. The Congress was desperate then, seized the advantage, was one up on the BJP but could not last even with like-minded partners in a coalition arrangement. It is still desperate for regaining a State that was its stronghold but in Maharashtra is faced between the devil and the deep sea. It cannot afford to settle with its enemy’s enemy, namely the Sena, and put its credibility on the line by supporting the latter’s Government from the outside. Nor can it afford to lose the heft of its ally, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and play second fiddle to it, now that the latter has been invited by the Governor to stake a claim, and concede to its chief Sharad Pawar’s acceptability among both the BJP and Sena. Predicted to be even more unstable than Karnataka, one hopes the Congress’ decision doesn’t give more ammunition to the BJP’s charge that it is better to be mukt of it and a single party rule is the only way forward, be it in Lok Sabha or the States. The pre-poll alliance of the BJP-Shiv Sena, which has crumbled under the destabilising weight of egoistic turf wars, has put a question mark on the efficacy of alliance politics that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has so far prided itself in. Particularly, when it loses a 30-year-old ally, that too one which has significantly helped in pushing a core Hindutva plank and Ayodhya. For all talk of development, the granularity of the BJP’s fundamental ideology was left to the Sena to manage while the bigger party could bask in the benevolence of the idea of a grand Bharat Parv. In that sense, Sena was the fall guy for doing things with a fringe, parochial mindset and taking the blame for them with a vision limited to Jai Maharashtra. Now that the BJP has appropriated its only comfort zone and relegated it to secondary space, the Sena is making a desperate lunge to be seen and heard, relevant as it still is as a counterweight. With the election of Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray’s grandson Aaditya, it now feels it can indeed roar like a tiger than be the whimpering sidekick at a neighbourhood park. The BJP, with its Chief Minister-worthy leader in Devendra Fadnavis, the man who even has the RSS’ blessings, knows people trust it for providing a stable leadership. It knows the nakedly ambitious Sena could go around with a shopping bag but would not have a natural proximity, nor the leadership, compromised as it would be by the Congress-NCP conditions. In fact, it is sitting back to expose the Sena as a spoiler. And it wants to reap the spoils knowing that a new anti-BJP coalition could be wobbly without mutual convergence of interests.
The Congress is upon its worst moment of reconciliation, one that threatens its ideological consistency even if it were to support the Sena Government from outside, cede ground to the NCP and insist upon a common agenda of governance. How could it have justified itself supporting a Hindutva-driven aggression to its minority votebank or even accepted Sena’s chief ministership? Aligning with the Sena would mean drawing attention to its own uncharitable history of using Thackeray to undercut its own dissidents and State leaders. Besides, it has worked with the Sena to get support on its contentious issues like the Emergency. Using the Sena to keep the BJP out, therefore, would be like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Staying in would be more problematic than staying out. As for Pawar himself, everybody was surprised about the return of the true Marathi warrior, who held on despite BJP-engineered defections and is justifiably angry with the national party despite supporting it in 2014. But by going with the Sena, he would look just like any other greedy regional satrap though the NCP has made support conditional on Sena snapping ties with the BJP. Pawar has always enjoyed being kingmaker but does that mean he won’t have a say as a king even with the Congress behind him? That’s another ego battle at work. The only thing holding him and the Sena together is their seasonal hatred of the BJP. Maharashtra has anyway proved that arithmetic does not matter. The coalition of convenience may find it difficult to get stability considering the BJP will have the ammunition to stall them at each step and insist one Fadnavis was better than a hydra-headed king. Sad for a State which is dealing with a serious farm crisis. Sadder for a people whose choices do not matter anymore.