In a significant political development, the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) headed by Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of B R Ambedkar, has decided to forge a pre-poll alliance with the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. Their tie-up being dubbed an “alliance of Shiv Shakti and Bhim Shakti” in a section of state political circles is likely to have an impact on state politics in coming days.
Apart from having a bearing on various coming elections, including the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls in 2023 and the Lok Sabha and the Maharashtra Assembly polls in 2024, the Thackeray-Ambedkar alliance, if sustained, may go beyond electoral politics to revive the social reforms agenda which has been at the core of progressive Maharashtra politics.
“Uddhav Thackeray raised the subject of alliance a few days back,” Prakash Ambedkar said. “After careful deliberations within our VBA we have decided to strike a partnership with Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray).”
Ambedkar however said the nitty-gritty of their alliance will have to be hammered out by Thackeray. “Thackeray will have to work out whether it will continue alliance with Congress and NCP. And then take VBA as fourth alliance partner. Or whether Shiv Sena (UBT) and VBA will be alliance partners,” he said, indicating that complex alliance matters like seat-sharing arrangements will be thrashed out later.
Sena (UBT) sources revealed that Thackeray has decided to get new partners on board without affecting its Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance involving the Congress and the NCP.
The Sena(UBT)-VBA tie-up may come as a fresh cause of worry for the ruling BJP, whose existing alliance includes the Balasahebanchi Shiv Sena led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and the Republican Party of India (A) led by Union minister Ramdas Athavale.
The consolidation of secular votes from the OBC, Marathas and Dalits in favour of the MVA would pose a formidable challenge for the BJP-led alliance in Maharashtra. In the past the BJP has exploited the Maratha versus OBC polarisation to its advantage. While a majority of Marathas have always gravitated towards the established Congress-NCP leaders, the BJP has had gone all out to woo the OBCs in the state. In 2014, the Narendra Modi factor gave the BJP a new plank to maximise its appeal to the masses. The BJP, which was in alliance with the united Sena, could then still win 23 out of the total 48 seats in the Lok Sabha polls and 133 of 288 seats in the state Assembly elections.
After the 2019 Assembly polls, the Sena joined hands with the Congress and the NCP to form the Thackeray-led MVA government, with the BJP forced to sit in the Opposition benches despite having emerged as the single largest party with 105 MLAs.
In June this year, however, the BJP engineered a split in the Thackeray-led Sena and succeeded in forming a government with the breakaway Sena rebel faction led by Shinde. As both Senas slug it out while claiming their respective factions as the “real Sena”, the big question remains whether the Thackeray-led Sena’s support base among people or Shiv Sainiks on the ground remains intact or it has shrunk.
Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Subash Desai claims, “The people have become more sympathetic to Shiv Sena (UBT) after the rebellion. They have not liked the politics of defection,” indicating that there has been a growing sense among people that Thackeray has been “wronged” by his own party members such as Shinde and that such an operation was the BJP’s handiwork.
Although the VBA currently does not have any MPs or even MLAs, the party is considered to have some base among the OBCs. Although its candidates could not win any seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, they affected the Congress-NCP’s prospects in 8-10 seats by splitting the Opposition votes as they polled more than one lakh votes in each of these constituencies. The BJP and the Sena, then alliance partners, won 23 and 18 seats, respectively. Similarly, in the 2019 Assembly polls too, the BJP is considered to have won in at least 32 Assembly seats due to a division of the “secular votes” between Congress-NCP and VBA.
Ambedkar says, “My party is a voice for all oppressed and backwards amongst all castes, communities and religions. We represent poor.” While stating that whenever it has an alliance the VBA manages to get its votes transferred to its ally, he indicates it would be tested in the upcoming BMC polls.
Recently, at the relaunch of a website on Prabodhankar Thackeray, Uddhav’s grandfather, both Ambedkar and Uddhav had come together, where the latter urged the VBA chief to form an alliance with his Sena to take on the saffron party. Their bonhomie was also a throwback to the 1950s, when the Maharashtra stalwarts, B R Ambedkar and Prabodhankar Thackeray, had joined hands to fight against social evils such as untouchability, dowry and casteism. Prakash and Uddhav declared that their common goal was to fight the BJP as it allegedly posed a threat to the ideals of Constitution – framed by Bhimrao Ambedkar — and democracy.