Though the tripartite alliance of the Shiv Sena led by Uddhav Thackeray, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and the Congress failed to remain in power in Maharashtra for a full term, it is now being asked if a pre-poll alliance between the three parties will work in the 2024 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections.
Asked about the future of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance, which came together in 2019 to keep the BJP out of power, NCP president Sharad Pawar on Sunday expressed a desire for it to continue. “The collapse of the MVA government has given rise to a question about what next,” Pawar told reporters in Aurangabad. “It is my personal wish that the MVA contests all future elections together. This decision will have to be adequately discussed by the three parties. At present, there is no such move in this direction.”
The Shiv Sena and the Congress have remained silent on Pawar’s comments. A state NCP leader said, “When Pawar sahab recommends something, it has substance. We will first discuss it in our own party.”
With the Shiv Sena enfeebled following the rebellion by Eknath Shinde, the current chief minister, it has more pressing problems at the moment. A Shiv Sena MP said, “We will think about it when the time comes. In politics, nothing can be ruled out. Ultimately, our party president Uddhav Thackeray will have to decide.”
A Congress leader said while a pre-poll alliance between the party and the NCP was nothing new it would have to be seen how the Sena, given that most of its legislators rebelled over the MVA alliance, would be accommodated, given the “sharp ideological differences”.
Apart from a weakened Sena, most of whose legislators have sided with Shinde, the biggest challenge for the MVA will be agreeing on a seat-sharing formula for the elections.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha and Assembly polls, the battlelines were clear. It was a contest between the BJP-Shiv Sena combine and the Congress-NCP tie-up. Of the 48 parliamentary seats, the BJP contested 25 and the Sena 23 while the Congress contested 26 seats and the NCP 22. The BJP won 23 seats (23.84 per cent vote share), the Sena 18 (23.5 per cent votes), the NCP four constituencies (15.66 per cent votes), and the Congress bagged one (16.41 per cent votes).
The scenario was the same in the 2019 Assembly elections. Of the 288 Assembly seats, the BJP won 105 constituencies, the Shiv Sena 56, the NCP 54, and the Congress 44. The BJP topped with a 25.75 per cent vote share, the Sena’s share was 16.41 per cent, the NCP got 16.71 per cent of the votes, and the Congress 15.87 per cent.
The political landscape changed after Uddhav Thackeray joined hands with old rivals Congress and NCP after the BJP refused to give the Sena the chief minister’s post. It was an experiment that saw a party with Hindutva as its ideology ally with secular outfits. It lasted two-and-a-half years before Shinde’s rebellion put an end to it. Now, Thackeray is left with 15 MLAs and a split in the parliamentary party has not been ruled out. At least 10-12 of Sena’s 18 MPs are said to be with the Shinde faction.
Given that the Thackeray-led Sena now stands diminished and it performed better than the Congress last time, the NCP is unlikely to settle for equal seat sharing. In such a scenario, the other two parties may resist playing second fiddle to Pawar’s party. Moreover, the 2019 Assembly polls saw a direct contest between the Sena and the NCP in at least 55 to 60 seats and for Sena workers, the NCP’s primacy in the alliance may not be an agreeable proposition.
Even when in power, Congress leaders often expressed dissatisfaction with the MVA government’s decisions and party workers disapproved of the Thackeray administration’s decision in its last moments to rename Aurangabad as Sambhajinagar.
Explaining the complexities of striking a pre-poll alliance when sustaining the MVA government proved difficult, a Congress leader said, using an analogy, “A marriage works between two people. The moment you have a third person, it breaks down. Similarly, a pre-poll alliance between two partners will work. Three partners alliance is complex.”