Political equations in Maharashtra are still fluid despite the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress having apparently agreed to a common minimum programme. With the BJP making overtures to the NCP and keeping the door open for pre-poll ally Shiv Sena, the race to government-formation is far from over.
Ideology not being a massive issue for all parties concerned, a surprise could be in store. More twists and turns cannot be ruled out in the drama of political compulsion till a solution to the political impasse emerges. The BJP that bagged the highest number of seats " 105 in the 288-seat Maharashtra Assembly, is the only party not facing any apparent threat of a split; whereas the others are.
Here's a look at the equations as they stand:
File image of Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, Home Minister Amit Shah, and former Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis. PTI
Till 11 November, the BJP and the Shiv Sena shared a common Hinduvta ideology and their alliance had lasted for almost three decades as NDA partners. Following years of unease in the alliance, the Sena finally snapped ties with the BJP after the recent Maharashtra Assembly election result and accused the latter of 'breaking the promise of equal division of power in the state'. It also exited the NDA.
Subsequently, the Shiv Sena joined hands with the NCP and the Congress to form government, but progress has been immensely slow and uncertainty prevails. Although at present, it'll be too far-fetched to say that both will reunite and form government, nothing can be said about the future in case the new alliance fails to reach a consensus.
"This inordinate delay in taking decisions is making the government-formation process tardy. It would have been better if the Sena-NCP-Congress alliance formed a government within a week of the imposition of President's Rule. Now it's a fluid and open situation in Maharashtra, and there are possibilities of a new set of negotiations," political commentator and author of Sonia, a Biography and 24 Akbar Road: A Short History of the People Behind the Fall and Rise of the Congress, Rasheed Kidwai told Firstpost.
NCP joining hands with the BJP can't be completely ruled out as ideology is not the key element at present. This is particularly so after the Congress became a Shiv Sena ally. Now it's more on the grounds of compromise. In recent years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has often praised NCP supremo Sharad Pawar in public. For instance, at a public function in Baramati in 2015, Modi said, "[Pawar] and I may have had different paths but our goals are the same. Both of us want the development of our society and welfare of the people. Pawar is a visionary."
Once again in 2016, Modi showered praise on the former Maharashtra chief minister and said, "I've personal respect for Pawar. When I was Gujarat chief minister, he helped me walk by holding my finger. I feel proud to pronounce this publicly." And now Modi's appreciation for the NCP (along with BJD) in the Parliament on Monday has led to speculation in Maharashtra on alternate possibilities. The prime minister's comment has extensively been discussed across party lines.
"NCP is a bundle of contradictions, and Pawar's politics is that of convenience. As the NCP has emerged in a big way, he is weighing all kind of options available and what he'll get out of them. Politics doesn't exist in isolation. There lies a possibility of NCP joining hands with the BJP, if the other [alliance] fails," Kidwai remarked.
Going back to the days of Shiv Sena patriarch Bal Thackeray, the chiefs of both parties have shared a cordial relation, irrespective of their ideological and political differences. Both shared mutual respect for one another, although over the years, relations between the NCP and Sena soured. With the entry of Udhhav Thackeray, the stand of the Sena as hardliner Hindutva outfit " with 'Maharashtra for Marathis' " has taken a back seat. From "Mi Marathi", it's now "Me Mumbaikar".
There are no more attacks on north Indian workers or Muslim-bashing at present. There's a visible shift in the Sena's strident mindset " from aggressive activism to a mature political outfit, which can be attributed to Uddhav. This brings the Sena closer to the NCP and Congress as a compromise. If Pawar " an expert political strategist, who is widely respected across political parties " takes the lead in forging a deal to form government, the Sena-NCP-Congress alliance will click. After all, time is at their disposal to fine tune all the aspects related to government-formation, power sharing and distribution of portfolios.
Shiv Sena and Congress
Although the Congress has joined the new alliance, it is worried about losing ground outside Maharashtra. The Grand Old Party that once had a pathogenic hatred for the Shiv Sena and accused its founder Bal Thackeray of playing the 'religion card' in politics, will be making a major ideological compromise at the national level. The Congress has relentlessly been fighting the BJP both at the national level and in states on ideological grounds. So, joining hands with the BJP is out of question. But besides the BJP, it has strongly condemned the Sena as well by dubbing the latter a 'communal party'.
Political experts believe that as the Congress has ranked fourth in terms of winning seats in the Assembly election, and the party is aware that it won't get a bigger piece of the pie " whether or not government-formation fructifies. "The Congress considers secularism its ideological cornerstone and it has been the identity of the party. On the other hand, the Sena is considered anti-secular and an aggressive right-wing party. As a result, the Congress may try to delay the process of arriving at a consensus in government-formation till it's fully satisfied," added Kidwai.
However, at present with the Shiv Sena's softened stand and the Congress having adopted soft-Hindutva during elections in the past three years " especially under Rahul Gandhi as party president " both parties are in a position to make compromises. Ultimately agreeing to the common minimum programme between Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress holds the key to government-formation in Maharashtra.