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An unlikely alliance, a rookie CM and tensions on ground

As per the power-sharing arrangement discussed among the sides, Sena will hold 15 ministerial portfolios, including the chief minister’s post, NCP is also likely to bag 15 ministerial berths, while the Congress might end up with 13 berths.

Written by Sandeep Ashar | Mumbai | Published: November 27, 2019 7:15:55 am
Maharashtra floor test, SC on Maharashtra today, Congress-NCP-Shiv Sena strength, Maharashtra government formation, BJP-NCP, Uddhav Thackeray, Sharad pawar, India news, Maharashtra news Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress along with their leaders during headcount in Hayat hotel in Santacruz. (Express photo by Prashant Nadkar)

WHEN SENIOR leaders of the hastily stitched up Maha Vikas Aghadi, involving Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress met for the first time to jointly discuss power sharing on November 23, the cracks in the new formation were hard to paper over. The meeting abruptly came to an end after the three sides got into an argument over distribution of portfolios and the Assembly Speaker’s position.

Three days later, before staking claim to form a new government in Maharashtra, the three parties on Tuesday tried hard to put forth a united front with chief ministerial designate Uddhav Thackeray hinting that the state’s latest political realignment was here to stay for long.

With Thackeray’s party holding diametrically opposite views on several ideological issues with Congress and NCP, the three parties have evolved a common minimum programme (CMP) to come together in government. But sources said that Uddhav’s immediate challenge after being sworn-in would be to keep both NCP and Congress in good humour with an effective distribution of ministerial portfolios among the three sides.

As per the power-sharing arrangement discussed among the sides, Sena will hold 15 ministerial portfolios, including the chief minister’s post, NCP is also likely to bag 15 ministerial berths, while the Congress might end up with 13 berths. While Uddhav will be the CM for the full five years, both Congress and NCP are likely to get one deputy chief minister’s post each.

State Congress president Balasaheb Thorat, who was appointed the legislature party leader, is the frontrunner for the deputy CM’s post for the Congress. For the NCP, while Ajit Pawar had been the frontrunner for the post before he broke ranks, sources said that state party president Jayant Patil is now the top contender.

Also, with former ministers and political heavyweights expected to dominate Congress’s and NCP’s list of ministers, Uddhav, who has never led a government in the past, has his task cut out, admitted Sena sources.

The alliance also revives memories of last year’s Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) government in Karnataka, which collapsed earlier this year after being just 14 months in power. “We have learnt our lessons from the collapse. We are trying hard to ensure that the new formation in Maharashtra does not go the same way,” a senior state Congress leader said, adding that the CMP was aimed at removing “angularities” between the sides.

Moments before he stepped down from the CM’s post on Tuesday, BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis had fired a barb at the new formation, saying that its only “common maximum agenda” was to keep the BJP out of the power. “The difference between the three parties are so stark that I fear that it won’t last for a long time,” said Fadnavis.

But a senior NCP leader pointed out that the “compulsion” of keeping BJP away from power could actually bind the three parties together. “You have seen how the three have worked in tandem to outsmart the BJP in the last few days,” he said. But sources said that the Congress leadership, which was initially reluctant to join a Sena-backed government, has imposed a condition that the new government would have to be “secular” in its functioning.

The Congress is happy that it has snatched a crucial state like Maharashtra from the BJP. Those in favour of the new alliance within the party also argue that aligning with the right-wing Sena will help the party shake-off the “Muslim appeasement” tag. For NCP, on the other hand, returning to power is essential to keep its flock together. The party draws most of its clout from the government-controlled cooperatives sector, while Sena is desperate to emerge out of BJP’s shadow.

In several constituencies, Sena had fought high-pitched election battles against Congress and NCP. The new alliance will also have to defuse the tensions between workers on the ground. According to political observers, if the new alliance goes the distance, it has the potential to alter the state’s political landscape. While both Congress and NCP appeal to identical voter segments and have a predominantly rural presence, Sena draws most of its clout from urban belts.

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