The Congress, NCP and Sena aren’t organic partners but they need each other so bad that they might stick
While the political developments in Maharashtra may seem to defy existing logic and expectations, they could well be the beginning of politics shape-shifting itself. For the new power game beats the ideological and communal divide and looks at an alternative matrix based on unity of purpose, one that is responsive to local dynamics and aspirations and one that challenges the arrogance of majoritarianism. So the Shiv Sena’s proposed alliance Government with the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (Congress-NCP) combine is attempting a politics of accommodation that can do without the BJP, the single-largest party which has refused to form the Government. How the three will reconcile their mutual anxieties and agree on governance, how they will justify themselves to their voters without appearing greedy and how well will they apportion the power pie to everybody’s satisfaction for stability are larger questions. Yet if the combine delivers, it can restore faith in a multi-party narrative, one that has been substantially denuded by single-party dominance and horse-trading. At least it has nudged the BJP, too, whose chief ministerial face Devendra Fadnavis, having failed to concede to ally Shiv Sena’s demand for a rotational Chief Minister (CM), had refused to form a Government. Post the new combination’s decision to stake claim, it now says it can sew up the numbers with Independents. Whether it can or cannot is uncertain at the moment but at least it has reacted to the counter-pressure.
In many ways, the BJP is falling into the same trap as the Congress in its heyday did, of eroding allies, stripping regional leaders and consolidating its own strength at their expense. The Congress no doubt would be happy about regaining some foothold in a State that was once its stronghold but whatever the compromise, it would still be in a squeeze. In the end it is supporting its enemy’s enemy, namely the Shiv Sena, known for its Hindutva-driven aggression as opposed to the Congress’ minority card. But it has been comfortable working with the Sena in the past, using its founder Bal Thackeray to tame trade unions, undercut its own dissidents and State leaders and get support on Emergency and presidential candidates. Besides, its rebel Muslim leader Abdul Sattar, who won handsomely despite moving over to the Shiv Sena, has proved that constituencies in State elections are won purely on the strength of local candidates. The Congress also cannot deny that its legislators who won had done so on their own steam without any campaign support from the central leadership. It would be difficult to not feel gratified by their performance. These legislators are impatient about being part of a new Government and do not want to go empty-handed. If the party refuses them, it could lose them to opponents and risk its existence in the State altogether. At the same time using the Sena to keep the BJP out would be comeuppance somewhat. As a nationalist party, the Congress may not want to appear as a bargaining satrap but at the moment it has little choice but to play second fiddle. Nor can it afford to upset its ally, the NCP, and its architect, Sharad Pawar, a man who has weathered all political seasons. With 54 seats despite the BJP’s relentless poaching of his cadres and intimidation of his kin by probe agencies, he has shown that he can still work the ground and keep Maharashtra relevant in national politics. By virtue of his cross-party ease of negotiation, he has emerged master puppeteer and is expected to be much like a super CM, the Sena needing him to stabilise its own CM for five years. This arrangement suits Pawar best. While his party can keep deputy chief ministership and some plum portfolios, he doesn’t have to carry the weight of leadership or its expectations. A flawed decision can easily be tossed at the Sena CM. At the same time, he can make the Sena listen to him, being its only friend. The Sena has gained by playing the victim card, dumped as it has been unceremoniously after 30 years. All it wanted was territorial overlordship in Maharashtra, a comfort zone the BJP denied. The Sena, which had waned somewhat after Thackeray’s death, can now claim its place in the sun with an elected face in Aaditya Thackeray and a possible consensus chief ministerial choice in his father Uddhav Thackeray, who claims he has never lied about commitments made. While Aaditya is currying acceptability in Mumbai, Uddhav hopes to coalesce the Marathi manoos. Yet the Sena has to bend to Pawar and Congress so as not to appear spoiler. A new anti-BJP coalition is expected to be wobbly without mutual convergence of interests. But simply because each needs the other badly, it might just run.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)