Ahead of the crucial 2019 Lok Sabha elections, mainstream political parties in Maharashtra are using different forums to reach out to new outfits to consolidate their electoral base in the state.
Taking the process forward, NCP chief Sharad Pawar appealed to all the regional parties, including Shiv Sena, to unite in the battle against the BJP in the next elections. Pawar said, “All political parties, including regional forces, should unite against the BJP in the next elections. In recently held Palghar bypolls, if we add the votes polled by Shiv Sena, Congress and Bahujan Vikas Agadhi, it clearly is more than the votes polled by BJP. Across the country, BJP had faced defeat in nine parliament seats because of unity of all like-minded parties.” Although Pawar did not directly name Sena, his reference to bring all regional forces across country on a common platform has conveyed the strong message that NCP is working to get Sena to its front to corner BJP.
Pawar’s proactive role has set the Maharashtra Congress leaders worried. The Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) president Ashok Chavan said, “We are ready for alliance only with like-minded secular parties. The Congress will not have any alliance with Shiv Sena and MNS.”
The leader of opposition and senior Congress leader Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil echoed identical sentiments against any covert or overt alliance with Shiv Sena and MNS. “The Congress cannot compromise on secularism. Any political party, which does not subscribe to secularism, cannot be a part of our alliance,” Vikhe-Patil said. According to political managers in state Congress, “Any alliance with Sena and MNS would prove detrimental for the pan-Indian party like Congress, which has following and acceptance across states and country.” The Sena and MNS, which have always indulged in narrow partisan politics, specially against the north Indians, cannot become an alliance partner of Congress.
Some within Congress also suspect NCP-Sena unity could be a political tactics to undermine the Congress seats in Lok Sabha and Assembly in 2019 polls. After all, NCP and Congress are always competing against each other. A senior NCP leader requesting anonymity said, “Politics is all about perceptions and you cannot have scope for untouchability. Pawar is trying to strengthen the anti-BJP forces. Sena is also a regional party and if it becomes a part of anti-BJP forum, what is wrong.” In Maharashtra politics, it is no secret that Sharad Pawar and late Bal Thackeray always shared cordial relationship despite persuing different political ideologies. Insiders in the NCP revealed, “In 1999, Pawar formed a separate party, NCP, after parting ways with Congress. A section in the organisation believed generation next Sena would support NCP in the fight against Congress. Today, NCP believes it can bring all regional parties, including Sena, to work against the BJP by making unrest amongst the people as common minimum programme.” However, Pawar’s political adventure comes a week after BJP president Amit Shah held two-hour meeting with Sena president Uddhav Thackeray to discuss the pre-poll alliance between Sena and BJP for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Both Sena and BJP leaders have revealed the Shah-Thackeray pre-poll talks are inconclusive but positive. A senior leader in BJP said, “The big two are going to hold more such meetings to resolve the differences related to pre-poll talks through some give and take.”
The Shiv Sena has taken the decision to closely monitor the developments. Thackeray’s close aide Harshal Pradhan said, “It is Uddhav Thackeray who had taken the initiative to get all the regional parties to work together on larger public issues for past three years. He was the first to hold meeting with Trinamool Congress president and Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee last year.” Moreover, “Pawar’s appeal to get all parties together is politically driven keeping elections in mind, unlike Uddhavji, who has always kept people’s concern upmost and not elections.”