It’s an unusual alliance born of the most unusual of circumstances. As Sena, NCP and Congress form a government in Maharashtra, The Indian Express travels to two constituencies where the Sena was in direct contest with the two pre-poll allies to see how they are looking at it on the ground
Shrivardhan MLA: NCP’s Aditi Tatkare
Taken aback, NCP bastion points out: Country is watching, Pawar holds the key
THE SLEEPY coastal town of Shrivardhan has spent the past few days glued to television sets, witnessing the political drama unfolding about 170 km away in Mumbai. The Assembly constituency nurtured by former NCP minister Sunil Tatkare watched incredulously as the party played the lead role in forging an alliance with arch rival Shiv Sena. Now, the word on the streets of this town in Raigad district, lined with hotels and homestays leading to its spotless beach, is whether the unlikely allies are up for the challenges that lie ahead.
This time, Tatkare’s daughter Aditi, 31, a political debutant, had defeated the Sena’s Vinod Ghosalkar, by 39,621 votes. Says Aditi, “I contested the election because I wanted an opportunity to represent Shrivardhan in the Assembly. We had not contested the polls thinking we would be part of the ruling alliance. Even if the equations at the top may have changed, I am still bound by the promises I made to the people of Shrivardhan and I will work for their betterment.”
All eyes on the Maharashtra tie-up
Many locals say Ghosalkar, an “outsider” brought from Mumbai, had no chance against Aditi, who bore the goodwill of her father, a senior leader and former state water resources minister. A local strongman, Tatkare is credited with development of the town, a push to its tourism industry and promotion of small businesses. This time, he contested the Lok Sabha polls and defeated the Sena’s six-time MP and then Union Minister for Heavy Industries, Anant Geete.
As locals express apprehension over the NCP joining hands with the Sena, the NCP’s Shrivardhan City secretary, Naresh Pulekar, admits the decision could leave the voters feeling helpless. “More than the alliance with the Sena, people in Shrivardhan were upset when Ajit dada (Pawar) went with the BJP. But that has been remedied. We have a lot of Muslims in the Assembly constituency and voters started feeling like they have no one to look out for them. I think voters should have a say in which way their candidate goes,” says Pulekar.
He adds that as a part of the alliance, he expects the Sena to change. Points out the 71-year-old retired primary school teacher, “The Shiv Sena has been a religion-oriented party but it is now allied with parties that have always been secular. So it will have to mellow its Hindutva.”
However, even Pulekar’s son Sachin, who runs a computer hardware store, believes the NCP will have a hard time convincing people about this. “My father can speak for the NCP but I want to say this about all parties. Maybe the candidates should return to their constituencies and see what the voters feel about this alliance… Perhaps they should come without their security cover,” he laughs. On the promenade along the Shrivardhan beach, 26-year-old Nadia Tolkar is taking a brisk walk wearing a maroon headscarf and burqa. Of late, she says, what is happening in the state’s politics has left her baffled. “If this is what they had to do, why did they make us vote at all? We obviously looked at the things happening around the country and decided whom to vote for. I don’t think this alliance will last too long,” she says.
Dipali Paldhe, who runs a papad business, and is a Sena supporter, is happy to have a Sena Chief Minister given that the party lost in Shrivardhan. However, she apprehends that it’s NCP chief Sharad Pawar who holds the key to power now. “At least for the first year, they will come up with an arrangement to make it work,” hopes the 34-year-old.
Early on Friday morning, the jetty at Jivna Bunder in Shrivardhan is bustling with activity. As batch after batch of fish catch arrives, an auction ensues. A basket of meaty Pomfret, a restaurant favourite across Maharashtra, is flung on the muddy ground as the man who started the sale at Rs 1,350 seals it at Rs 1,550. Next up for auction is a basket of surmai (seer fish), topped by a large sting ray with bloodshot eyes. The jetty is stacked with fishing nets of at least ten varying weaves and thickness. The catch that the fisherfolk bring back after at least four days at sea, travels as far as markets in Indapur (50 km away) and Mandgaon (45 km away) after the auction.
An NCP supporter, Kashinath Chunekar, 54, a member of the Shrikrishna Machchimar Sahakari Sanstha, also believes the alliance will run on Pawar power. “Sharad Pawarsaheb will be the boss. He is the one who will make this government run,” he says, adding that they celebrated the swearing-in of Uddhav Thackeray as Chief Minister by bursting firecrackers.
Chandrakant Waghe, 61, the chairman of the fisherman’s cooperative society, says that while the alliance took them by surprise, people can take comfort from the fact that a government is finally in place. “We hope work will continue as usual… Time will tell how the alliance fares,” Waghe says.
The senior Pulekar says what happens with the Maha Vikas Aghadi would also have portents for the rest of the country. “It will have an impact on alliances across India that are looking to oust the BJP,” he says, adding that it is in keeping this tie-up together that real leadership would emerge.
Karjat MLA: Sena’s Mahendra Thorve
Poll tension, govt tremors settle down, parties say ready to work together
On Thursday afternoon, with hours to go for Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s swearing-in as the 19th Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Nadeem Khan is the only partyman around at the Shiv Sena Jan Sampark Karyalaya in the bustling Karjat city. The rest, including senior party leaders and corporators, as well as local MLA Mahendra Thorve, have gone to Mumbai, over two hours away, for the historic ceremony marking the first Thackeray holding a public office. Khan, 34, is planning his own celebrations, with a gathering at the city chowk and distribution of sweets.
As he talks about the plans, there is a call on his cellphone. “Bhai, are we to invite our friends from the Congress in the evening?” asks Khan. He speaks about who all and how many people he has in mind, and the two conclude that it is best to wait for instructions from Mumbai on that.
“We have a party protocol. When we print banners, it is always Shivaji Maharaj first, then Balasaheb, then Uddhavsaheb, then Aadityasaheb and so on. Now we don’t know yet if our banners will also have to bear the photos of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress leaders. We are waiting for instructions,” Khan says.
A saffron ‘Shivbandh’ around his wrist, a symbol of allegiance for Sena workers, he adds, “Here, it is not like it is in Mumbai. People may be working for different political parties but they are all related in some way. People have in-laws across parties, so their political differences never get in the way of personal relationships. As political workers, we sometimes have to resolve matrimonial disputes too.”
This message of bonhomie is a far cry from the recent Assembly polls. Ahead of the elections, rumours had been rife about a rebellion within the Sena and its candidate Thorve jumping ship to the NCP. Ultimately, Thorve had won by 18,046 votes, wresting a seat held by the NCP for 10 years.
As evening sets in, the celebrations at the heart of Karjat city draw Shiv Sena workers, including a dozen women dressed in festival finery. No other party flags can be seen at the venue. Khan leads the way in bursting firecrackers.
About questions regarding the propriety of the Sena’s alliance with the ideologically disparate NCP and Congress, Khan says he welcomes a Sena CM, as it is the fulfillment of a promise made to founder Bal Thackeray. Khan, a former professional disc jockey in Karjat and Mumbai, says he made a trip to Ajmer ahead of the election results and offered a mannat (prayer) at the Ajmer Sharif Dargah for a Sena chief minister.
Karjat lies at one end of the Central Railway’s suburban train network, about 74 km from its Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, and is a popular weekend getaway for Mumbai’s residents. Its proximity to hill stations like Matheran and the N D studio theme park also add to its attraction.
Mohan Wavhal, 27, a jewellery shop employee and a Sena supporter, says, “We are not concerned with who becomes CM, who is in the alliance and who will become a minister. We are only concerned with what our MLA does for our area; we look at the candidate and not the party. We think every party deserves a chance if the candidate is good… And I don’t think my vote was wasted because the CM is still from the Sena.”
Outside the Karjat railway station, a BJP supporter, Amit Gupta, 39, however, sees the alliance as “betrayal”. A sweet shop owner, he says he had an altercation with a friend over the Sena-NCP-Congress tie-up. “This alliance is unfit, it won’t last more than two months. After that the Sena will be over because it has abandoned Hindutva. We voted for the Shiv Sena because we wanted the BJP to stay in power. I feel cheated as a voter… I don’t know if I will vote again.”
According to him, what makes the alliance unwieldy is the presence of power centres like Sharad Pawar and Sonia Gandhi, who will each want a say.
Karjat’s Sena MLA Thorve acknowledges the hand of BJP supporters in his election win. “While we were in alliance with the BJP, they always treated with disrespect. I am aware that some BJP supporters voted for me in Karjat but perhaps, they now feel what we felt for the last five years,” he says
Vishal Joshi, 41, a VHP functionary, is as disappointed about the BJP failing to form a government. An ice-cream parlour owner, Joshi asks what the Sena stands for now. “Now it can’t raise Section 370 or Ram Mandir. The only way it can last is if it is able to support a National Register of Citizens across the country and a Uniform Civil Code… There is no certainty, and there is no doubt that voters have been deceived.”