The Congress on Wednesday ruled out any possibility of an alliance with the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) for the 2019 general and assembly polls. “The question of an alliance or electoral understanding with the MNS does not arise. The Congress can never align itself with a party that believes in divisive politics and is bereft of secular ideologies,” said Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam.
Earlier, on March 18, MNS chief Raj Thackeray, while targeting the Narendra Modi-led BJP government, had raised the call for a united opposition for a “Modi-mukt Bharat”. With Thackeray meeting Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar before making the announcement, speculation had been rife over a possible electoral understanding between the Congress, the NCP, and the MNS ahead of the 2019 polls. The duo’s meeting was preceded by a meeting between Pawar and Congress president Rahul Gandhi, and it had fuelled speculation.
But the Congress remains wary of Raj Thackeray and his party becoming part of an anti-BJP front. Party leaders are apprehensive that the party could lose support among voters in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, should the MNS join any coalition, of which it is a part.
“The Congress is for a coalition with all secular-minded parties. But an alliance with a party that does not have such credentials and only believes in dividing people on religion, caste, and linguistic lines is unthinkable,” Nirupam said.
Although a section of Congress leaders feel that friendly fights with the MNS and BJP’s ally Shiv Sena might help reduce the BJP’s overall election footprint in Maharashtra, the party’s leadership holds a view that it would immensely hurt the party’s prospects elsewhere. Insiders say that Pawar, on the other hand, is keen on Raj Thackeray playing an active role in the anti-BJP front in Maharashtra. But even the NCP is against the idea of a formal alliance with the MNS.
Distancing itself from the MNS, the Congress even targetted Raj Thackeray’s party. Nirupam severely criticised the MNS for vandalising shops belonging to Gujarati traders on March 18, while recounting how the party had targeted north Indians in the past.
“Mumbai has become unsafe due to the violence of the MNS,” Nirupam said.