While Sharad Pawar is being credited for bringing together three parties with varied ideologies to form the Maha Vikas Aghadi government, Congress leaders like Prithviraj Chavan and Husain Dalwai, along with Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut, were the first to raise the pitch for the need to form such a coalition in the state.
As the Assembly poll results started trickling in on October 24, it was clear that the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance had emerged as the clear winner with 161 seats. The Congress-NCP front was a distant second with 99 seats.
While Pawar was quick to promise to play the role of an effective Opposition, Prithviraj Chavan was the first leader from the combine to hint at “secular-minded” parties like Congress and NCP coming together with Hindutva-based Sena to keep the BJP out of power.
“Wait, there will be a big development next week,” Chavan had told The Indian Express on October 24 evening. Asked if there was a possibility of Congress, NCP and Sena joining hands, he had said, “Why not ? We will do everything to stop BJP, which is indulging in vendetta politics.”
The next day, Sena mouthpiece Saamana — Raut is its executive editor — carried a headline that taunted then chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’s ‘Maha Janadesh Yatra’ in the run-up to the polls. The headline struck out the words ‘Maha Janadesh’.
Post-Diwali, Saamana slammed Fadnavis for denying that Sena was promised an equal share of posts, including that of the CM, ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. Uddhav, too, had then went on to say that “all options are open”.
Amid this, wherever he interacted with the media, Pawar insisted that the mandate for Congress-NCP alliance was to sit in the Opposition. Asked about Uddhav’s remarks, he had said, “This is not the option for us… BJP-Shiv Sena has been given mandate, they should form the government.”
As November dawned and the Sena-BJP verbal war intensified, Chavan led a delegation of Congress leaders to meet party president Sonia Gandhi. “If we do not respond to BJP’s vindictive politics and blatant targeting of Congress leaders, we will be failing in our duty,” he then told Sonia.
Soon after, Congress’ Hussain Dalwai wrote to Sonia, underlining the need to keep the “communal” BJP out of power. He went on to meet Sonia and other senior leaders like Gulam Nabi Azad and Ahmed Patel.
“Azad and Patel were both positive about tying up with Shiv Sena. In fact, Azad told me ‘yaar jaldi karo.” Dalwai said. He then met Raut in his office, which raised a lot of eyebrows, especially in the BJP camp.
Dalwai told The Indian Express, “I told Soniaji that Sena was a regional party and not a threat to Congress at the national level. Its Hindutva was nationalistic and not communal like BJP’s.”
Pawar came into the picture after Raut met him at his residence on October 31. But he refused to open his cards. Two weeks later, Pawar met Sonia but claimed that he had not discussed with her a possible tie-up with Sena.
Amid confusion over Pawar’s statement, Chavan had then said: “Sonia Gandhi has almost agreed to a tie up with Sena.” According to Congress leaders, Sonia had entrusted the entire responsibility of stitching the alliance on Pawar.
Downplaying his role, Chavan said: “I don’t want the credit. There was a pressing need to halt BJP’s gameplan and breathe fresh life into Congress rank and file in Maharashtra.”
Asked about divergent ideologies coming together, Raut said: “Congress leaders, since the formation of the state in 1960, till it was in power last time, have immensely contributed to the development of Maharashtra… parties like BJP refuse to acknowledge this. Congress doesn’t talk of finishing off Sena like BJP does…”
Sena MP Shrirang Barne described Chavan, Dalwai and Raut as the key architects of the new formation along with Pawar. “Don’t know what made Chavan so confident right from the beginning,” he said.