With their own space shrinking and vote bank under threat, both of them have now begun working on a broader alliance of secular forces.
Despite being a part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance and sharing power in Maharashtra, Thackeray’s party has been doing what it does best — being the party of rebellion — in a bid to occupy the vacant space of a strong opposition even as it takes credit for popular moves of the state government.
The outcome of the Lok Sabha bypoll in Palghar on Thursday again showed that at least in urban and semi-urban pockets, it is the Shiv Sena that poses the biggest threat to the BJP. Both the Congress and the Sharad Pawar-led NCP have now begun working on the possibility of a United Opposition for the 2019 Lok Sabha bypoll.
Maharashtra Congress chief Ashok Chavan confirmed to The Indian Express that talks were already underway with the Left parties — the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Peasants and Workers Party — in the state. “We do not want the BJP to benefit from the division of secular votes. We are reaching out to all secular parties for a broader secular alliance,” said Chavan. On Thursday, the NCP had registered a famous win in the Lok Sabha bypoll in Bhandara-Gondia fighting in unison with the Congress.
NCP’s Nawab Malik confirmed that talks were also on with the various Republican factions, including Prakash Ambedkar’s Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh. Chavan also claimed that senior state Congress and NCP leaders had met the representatives of the Left parties to discuss the various possibilities. Even for the Palghar bypoll, where the Congress candidate fared poorly, Chavan contended that attempts were made to forge a united ‘non-BJP and a non-Shiv Sena’ formulation, which did not materialise in the end.
Malik claimed that there was growing unrest against the ruling combine in the state, and the Opposition can capitalise on the anger by staying united.
Senior leaders from both the parties, however, admitted that Shiv Sena’s growing clout as an opponent to the BJP was worrying for them. “Uddhav Thackeray has been publicly claiming that his party won’t contest any election in alliance with the BJP in the future. A united Opposition will be best placed to take advantage of a split between the two,” said a senior leader, requesting anonymity. “Local body polls held last year also saw that the BJP and the Shiv
Sena are the best placed in a multi-cornered contest,” he added.
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s Raj Thackeray also has been targeting the BJP aggressively of late. While there is no plan to induct MNS into an anti-BJP formulation, the NCP, in particular, has been weighing the option of a tacit understanding with Raj Thackeray’s party to upset the BJP and the Shiv Sena.