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Maharashtra: Unlikely allies, but the Shiv Sena has had a soft corner for Sharad Pawar

Maharashtra government formation: From facing an existential crisis and braving defections of several key leaders ahead of the Assembly polls, Sharad Pawar appears to have steered his party into the position of a kingmaker.

Written by Sandeep A Ashar , Edited by Explained Desk | Mumbai | Updated: November 12, 2019 6:50:35 am
Explained: Unlikely allies, but the Shiv Sena has had a soft corner for Pawar NCP chief Sharad Pawar with former Shiv Sena Supremo Bal Thackeray. (Express Archive)

In Maharashtra, the possibility of Shiv Sena joining hands with Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party and forming a government in Maharashtra with Congress’s support has increased. Not wanting to be seen rushing to power in Maharashtra, the NCP waited for the BJP’s failure to form a government.

On Monday, just as NCP’s core group was meeting to “review” the possibility of partnering with the Shiv Sena to form a government in Maharashtra, a senior party leader hinted that the party could use the excuse of “avoiding a constitutional crisis in the state” to join hands with the Shiv Sena.

From facing an existential crisis and braving defections of several key leaders ahead of the Assembly polls, Pawar appears to have steered his party into the position of a kingmaker. By letting the Shiv Sena come to him, he again finds himself in the driver’s seat.

A possible alliance between the Shiv Sena and the NCP is not that big a surprise. It must be recalled that Shiv Sena patriarch Balasaheb Thackeray had backed Pawar’s bid to become the Prime Minister when he was in the Congress. Honouring his friendship with Pawar, Thackeray had also ensured that the Sena-BJP alliance does not put a candidate against Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule when she was nominated to the Rajya Sabha for the first time. When Pranab Mukherjee was nominated by the Congress as the Presidential candidate, it was Pawar who had accompanied him to Thackeray’s residence, Matoshri, to successfully elicit the Shiv Sena’s support to his candidature.

Maharashtra: What’s in it for NCP, Shiv Sena?

While Pawar’s impressive election campaign has set the stage for NCP’s resurgence in Maharashtra, senior party leaders say returning to power in Maharashtra is essential for the party to keep its flock together and rebuild. NCP draws most of its political clout from the government promoted cooperatives sector. Also, many of its senior leaders — including Pawar’s nephew Ajit, former deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal and party MP Sunil Tatkare among others — continue to battle corruption allegations.

Explained: Unlikely allies, but the Shiv Sena has had a soft corner for Pawar Sharad Pawar with former Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray at his residence in Mumbai in 2010. (Express Archive)

The Sena, meanwhile, seems desperate to emerge out of the shadows of its longstanding ally BJP to remain relevant. While it was the more dominant partner between the saffron allies in the state till 2014, the scenario has rapidly changed since, with the BJP getting the upper hand.

Why would the Congress back such a Shiv Sena government?

While the Congress’s central leadership was initially reluctant to support a government formed by the Shiv Sena keeping in mind the ideological differences between the parties, the party’s new MLAs have been mounting pressure on the high command to back the formation in order to stop the BJP from forming a government in Maharashtra. Keen to keep its MLAs intact and save a possible split, the Congress may support a Shiv Sena-NCP from the outside to begin with. But some of its MLAs are pressuring the leadership to join in the government as well. Those not in favour of the move say that the party runs the risk of losing some of its ideological support base.

Explained: Unlikely allies, but the Shiv Sena has had a soft corner for Pawar Bal Thackeray with Sharad Pawar. (Express Archive)

The ‘unlikely’ realignment

While it remains to be seen whether an ‘unnatural’ alliance between the Shiv Sena, a hardline Hindutva party, and the two secular parties runs smoothly, political observers believe such a formation has the potential to alter Maharashtra’s political landscape. While both the Congress and the NCP appeal to identical voter segments and have a predominant rural presence, the Sena draws most of its clout from urban belts. Indications are that the parties will evolve a common minimum programme to come together.

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