The inherent differences in the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition are coming to the fore now as, with power gone, there are few incentives for the three parties to hold together, and a shrinking pie to share between them.
This is one reason behind the open war of words between the Congress and Shiv Sena over the Leader of Opposition position in the Legislative Council. Congress state chief Nana Patole has claimed the Sena did not take it into confidence before announcing the name of Ambadas Danve. With the NCP’s Ajit Pawar claiming the post in the Assembly, the Congress felt it had as much of a right as the Sena to the LoP post in the Council.
Patole, not one to mince his words, went on to suggest that a break-up of the MVA might be inevitable.
Leaders point out that differences such as this within the three unlikely allies which came together to constitute the MVA are not new. In the entire two-and-a-half years that the MVA was in power, the Congress’s constant endeavour had been to ensure that it was not overshadowed by the Sena and NCP, with their much bigger numbers (while the Sena had 56 MLAs when the MVA government was formed, the NCP had 54 and the Congress 44).
The Congress had taken exception, for example, to its legislative wing leader and then Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat’s photo missing from government posters and advertisements containing images of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray of the Shiv Sena and Deputy CM Ajit Pawar of the NCP. The Congress also believed it was given a raw deal in the distribution of portfolios.
Congress ministers had once gone to Delhi to meet the party’s central leadership to complain about the Finance Ministry led by Ajit Pawar “creating hurdles in their departments”.
However, the Congress – and for that matter its partners – knew the party would not push matters to breaking point. In power now in just a handful of states, it was grateful for an opportunity to breathe and regroup its resources.
Dethroned by the Sena rebel camp and BJP, the Congress need no longer worry about allies, and believes it has a chance to capture the Opposition space, as local body polls approach. Another motivation driving the Congress’s aggressive stance, as voiced by Patole, is the apprehension that Uddhav Thackeray might eventually reunite with rebel unit head Eknath Shinde. Hence, the party feels, it must be prepared for such an eventuality.
At the same time, another section in the Congress thinks it is more prudent to adopt a wait and watch policy, while making it clear that it cannot be taken for granted. Patole’s outburst iswas a combination of both.
The Sena, bleeding due to the split, is more desperate than its allies to hold on to positions of power and influence – for leverage against more people leaving. As a leader from Marathwada, Danve is an asset Thackeray is keen to hold on to.
The NCP, like it did while they were in government, has taken on the role of peacemaker to keep things smooth between the allies. Ajit Pawar even visited Thackeray at home after the Danve fracas, to advise him to avoid taking unilateral decisions.
A senior NCP leader said it was even more imperative for the MVA to stay together now. “When the MVA government was running, we could have fought local body polls independently. But now the situation has changed. It is time to stick together and discuss before making decisions. Hope everybody understands this.”
There is a group that feels that it was Patole who had precipitated matters. They give the example of January 2020, when Patole, then Assembly Speaker, had moved an impromptu resolution demanding an OBC census. Both CM Thackeray and Deputy CM Ajit Pawar were taken aback as the issue was not discussed. It’s also unusual for a Speaker to move such a resolution. Pawar at the time had expressed his disappointment over allies not being taken into confidence.