After the collapse of the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra, there is now uncertainty over the future of the MVA – a coalition of three parties, the Uddhav-led Sena, the Sharad Pawar-led NCP and the Congress.
The key question that hangs over the MVA’s fate is, whether the triad coalition could work in electoral politics if it had only limited success in government that fell after completing barely 31 months.
In a government setting with defined power structures, it is easier to engage with allies while sharing power. But when the same model is extended to electoral politics with its pulls and pressures, it is difficult to succeed, with the allies vying with each other to protect their turfs and expand their footprints, which is reflected in their respective bids to stake claims over higher share of seats in various elections including civic polls or Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.
This is bound to be more challenging for ideologically disparate parties like the Sena and the Congress or the NCP. Setting aside their ideological differences, the trio had forged the MVA to form their government in November 2019, keeping the single largest party, the BJP, at bay. But after being ousted from power now, it will be a tall order for the three parties to continue to work together and take on the BJP as well as the Eknath Shinde-led Sena faction in Maharashtra.
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A day after Uddhav stepped down as the CM, the Congress and the NCP rallied in his support, expressing sympathy and solidarity, with signals to this effect coming from Congress president Sonia Gandhi and NCP chief Pawar. But such gestures will be tested on the ground when the three parties with their separate, conflicting agendas take the plunge into any election.
Currently, the NCP seems to be in a better position than the Congress and the Sena. With Pawar Senior at its helm, the party has drawn up a road map for the expansion of its electoral base across Maharashtra. The pary’s ex-Deputy CM Ajit Pawar, who held finance portfolio in the Uddhav Cabinet, ensured that the constituencies of their leaders and legislators were adequately funded to get various developmental projects properly executed there.
Days after the October 2019 Maharashtra Assembly election, the Sena had decided to break its 25-year-old alliance with the BJP as the latter had not conceded its demand for a rotational CM with two-and-half years tenure for each party’s nominee. The MVA was then created with Uddhav taking over as the CM.
The Congress’s and the NCP’s willingness to “surrender” the coveted CM post to the Sena was then perceived as “political compulsion” as their leadership seemed to believe that the Sena-led MVA was the only way forward to keep the BJP out of power. To circumvent their ideological differences, they decided that the MVA government will follow a common minimum programme, with the Sena agreeing to exclude its Hindutva agenda from it.
Despite such compromises, the MVA’s inherent contradictions put massive pressure on all three parties. While their leaders accomodated each other there had been uneasiness and resentment among their workers at the grass-roots level. It finally erupted in the form of Shinde-led rebellion that split the Sena. Rushing to form a government with the breakaway Sena outfit, the BJP rewarded Shinde with the CM’s chair.
The senior Congress leader and ex-CM, Prithviraj Chavan, who had played a role in the formation of the MVA government, had often expressed the need for a Co-ordination Committee that could resolve political and governnace issues arising between the three partners. His suggestion however did not make any headway.
A senior NCP leader said, “Sharad Pawar was monitoring and intervening whenever required to ensure smooth functioning of the coalition. The Congress and the NCP kept their promise. What went wrong was the internal issue of Shiv Sena. Its leadership failed to keep its own party intact.”
Since its creation on May 1, 1960, Maharashtra witnessed a single-party rule by the Congress until 1995 barring 1978-80, when Sharad Pawar had rebelled to form the Democratic Front government becoming the state’s youngest CM at the age of 38. Later, he returned to the Congress, although he again exited the party to form the NCP in 1999.
In 1995, the Sena-BJP coalition came to power by defeating the Congress, which marked the beginning of the two-party rule in the state. During 1999-2014, the Congress- NCP combine ruled the state, with the BJP-Sena coalition at the helm during 2014-2019 with Devendra Fadnavis as the CM.
Senior NCP leader and ex-minister Chhagan Bhujbal said, “The Congress and the NCP despite differences ensured smooth governance.” At the same time however, he said, each of the two allies was free to chart its own political road map for its growth and expansion.
With the Uddhav-led Sena being dealt a body blow by the Shinde-led party rebels, the NCP will go all out to claim the political space thus created in a bid to realise its ambition to become the single largest party in the state. It will now be the principal Opposition party in the Assembly.
The Congress continues to be drifting in the state with the plight of the grand old party’s central unit aggravating the situation at all levels. In the absence of an effective leadership and road map, it finds itself in disarray. The Sena rebellion leading to the ouster of the MVA government seemed to have demoralised its rank and file further.
On his part, Uddhav said, “My own people betrayed me. But I am determined to rebuild Sena.” To reclaim the party and rebuild it will be, however, an uphill task for him and his loyalists.
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