Narendra Modi’s emergence as the common target of various parties, including the BJP’s former ally the Shiv Sena, is a pointer to new combinations that can potentially take shape after the polls, with the NCP too having broken up with the Congress.
Will the Thackeray cousins get together? Will either or both align with the NCP? These three parties, which account for 120 seats in the current assembly of 288, together out-polled the BJP and the Congress in 2009 if those two tallies were to be counted individually.
And it is these three that have taken up the common theme. Uddhav Thackeray has been unrelenting in his campaign against Modi following the Shiv Sena-BJP split. Raj Thackeray has accused Modi’s government of trying to sever Mumbai from Maharashtra. The NCP too has chosen to target Modi rather than the Shiv Sena.
With five standalone parties rather than two alliances, the Maharashtra-based three seem to have sensed a fractured verdict and hence targeted the party they fear can get closest to the majority mark of 145. Single-party rule could threaten the very existence of these three parties, as can a two-party tradition with room for no party other than the Congress and the BJP.
Y P Thakar, director of the policy think-tank Centre for Development Planning and Research, says these elections are indeed a straight fight between the BJP and the Congress. “At present the elections are being fought strongly on the lines of regional parties versus the national party,” Thakar says. As such, he feels, an NCP-Sena-MNS combination might try and get together if the verdict is fractured.
For the BJP, union minister Prakash Javadekar makes an assessment: “It can’t be mere coincidence that the Sena, the MNS and the NCP are speaking the same language against Modi. It shows they are joining hands to keep the BJP out.”
And for the Congress, former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan says, “The NCP’s decision to part ways with the Congress means they have other options open for after the polls.” A Congress general secretary adds, “It is evident that the Sena is following Pawar’s script. Uddhav Thackeray’s attack is entirely against the BJP and Modi. They have stopped talking about NCP ministers in alleged scams.”
The NCP’s Ajit Pawar says, “Naturally, we would like to consolidate our numbers in the free-for-all contest,” but insisted, “The NCP has its own base and can withstand Modi and the BJP.” NCP leaders stress they cannot ally with “communal forces” but that description has of late been exclusively for the BJP and not the Sena. An NCP functionary concedes, “If the regional parties have to hold on to their respective turfs, we have to attack the biggest rival. And today, the BJP is the biggest threat to the NCP, the Sena and the MNS.”
At local levels, combinations have often been against general trends. The Congress has joined hands with the Sena and the BJP to elect the chairperson in the Osmanabad zilla parishad, and with the BJP in the panchayat samiti of Baglan in Nashik district, while Nashik’s municipal corporation has brought the NCP together with the MNS. In Pune, Amravati and Yavatmal, the NCP came together with either the Sena or the BJP, or both.
“In the coalition era, it is all about the numbers game,” an NCP poll manager says. “The concept of untouchability no longer exists. If we feel the Congress is on the backfoot, why shouldn’t we take the lead along with regional forces to undermine the BJP?”
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