NAGPUR, Maharashtra: Despite having four major political parties, Maharashtra has mostly witnessed clearly marked out “secular versus Hindutva” politics since the formation of Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party in 1999.
Pawar had left the Congress on the eve of the 1999 assembly elections in Maharashtra over the issue of Sonia Gandhi’s nationality. The separation was short, though. Within months, the two parties formed an alliance that went on to rule Maharashtra for 15 years.
Then there was the other storied partnership, Shiv Sena-BJP, which was formed in 1989 and weathered all challenges until last week.
Through the last five assembly terms, the two alliances took on each other without thinking twice, firing verbal volleys and mocking opponents over their politics.
Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray would often disparage Sonia Gandhi over her Italian heritage while Congress leaders would term Thackeray a “tiger who needs 150 security men around him to roar”.
But Maharashtrians have been watching with some disbelief as the state witnesses political realignments no one could have predicted until October 24, when the results of the Maharashtra assembly elections were declared.
With Shiv Sena snapping ties with BJP over the issue of rotational chief ministership, former foes Congress-NCP and Shiv Sena are in talks to form the government while the state remains under President’s Rule.
On Thursday, the leaders of these three parties met for the first time in Mumbai to chalk out a common minimum programme.
In a rare sight, former Maharashtra deputy CM Chhagan Bhujbal was seen talking to Shiv Sena legislative party leader Eknath Shinde and Subhash Desai in this meeting. The meeting also included Congress’s Vijay Waddetiwar and Prithviraj Chavan and NCP’s Jayant Patil and Nawab Malik but it was Bhujbal’s presence that showed just how serious the three parties are: just before the election, Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray had reiterated how Bhujbal was responsible for his father’s arrest in 2000.
But the road ahead isn’t smooth. The Shiv Sena has always praised Vinayak Sawarkar and continues to demand a Bharat Ratna for him, while the Congress has taken the opposite position.
Shiv Sena has also proudly held on to its anti-Muslim stance since the demolition of the Babri Masjid and takes pride in the fact that it was involved in the 1993 anti-Muslim riots in Mumbai. Congress-NCP, on the other hand, in 2014 granted 5% reservation to Muslims in government jobs and reservations which the Shiv Sena approved of only 2018.
“It’s an alliance of contradictions and I don’t see it lasting long. Even Shiv Sena and BJP alliance saw intense friction despite having similar ideologies. Here, the ideologies are the opposite. I think we will need the Minimum Conflict Programme than a Common Minimum Programme. This alliance will last as long as the leaders of these three parties keep patience and silence. If they go on expressing themselves, this government won’t last long,” a newly elected Congress MLA from Vidarbha told HuffPost India on condition of anonymity.
It is these contradictions that the BJP hopes will bring down the uneasy alliance, if it goes through, very soon.
While the BJP publicly is portraying a “wait and watch policy” critics say the Income Tax department’s raids on Shiv Sena-ruled BMC contractors suggest this isn’t the case.
Some BJP MLAs have already asked their workers to begin preparing for midterm polls.
Sensing the growing unease over the alliance of unnatural allies, Pawar has been assuring everyone that there won’t be midterm polls.
“A stable government will be formed soon and it will last for five years,” Pawar told reporters in Nagpur on Friday.
The common minimum programme may be less of a challenge than a deal over power-sharing. It is unclear if Shiv Sena, which ditched its 30-year-old ally over the post of CM, will agree to share the post with NCP.
Since Shiv Sena is more dependant on the support of NCP-Congress, the two parties are likely to demand key portfolios such as home, finance, and revenue. The Congress leadership is yet to endorse the alliance with Shiv Sena publically.
Even if Shiv Sena is able to reach an agreement and form a government with NCP-Congress, the polity of Maharashtra is set to witness instability due to the nature of the alliance.
From the Moraraji Desai government of 1977 to the Kumaraswami government of 2019, history shows that political realignments for convenience don’t last long.