The combination in the Maharashtra government makes for interesting bedfellows. The NCP will prop up the BJP from the outside but its chief Sharad Pawar has made it clear that the support does not mean that the arrangement will last five years. And, perhaps, conscious of the fact that the support to the BJP is not going down well with a section of his MLAs and supporters — those who are on marginal seats and need to keep their “secular” image intact — Pawar has made no bones about the fact that he did use the words “saffron terrorists’’ for those involved in the Malegaon blasts of 2006. This is not good news for the Devendra Fadnavis’ government, which will be seeking a confidence vote today. In all probability, the government will survive but I wonder for how long.
On the flip side, after nearly 30 years, the Shiv Sena and the Congress find themselves being forced into the unenviable position of becoming comrades-in-arms once again. The Congress is not half the entity it was in the 1960s when it set up Bal Thackeray to take on the Communists and Uddhav Thackeray faces the criticism of being not half the man his father was, and that is why the BJP believes it can get the better of him. However, while the Congress continues to be in the stupor induced upon it ever since its Lok Sabha debacle, I believe Uddhav has the measure of the game and has, so far, played his cards well. People saw his decision to withdraw Anil Desai from the Cabinet expansion as confusion but I believe it was the only way he could have reacted once it became clear that Narendra Modi was not doing him even the courtesy of asking if he could induct a Shiv Sainik (Suresh Prabhu) into his Cabinet.
Prabhu has been estranged from the Thackerays for some time and, of course, he had to look out for himself but, I believe, it would have been more gentlemanly not to embarrass Uddhav in the manner in which both Prabhu and Modi did.
However, I have noticed that Uddhav fights best when his back is to the wall and his decision to sit in the Opposition could not have been better timed. Obviously the BJP’s waiting game (I was pretty taken by Uddhav’s tongue-in-cheek barb at his former ally – “they seem to be discussing with us, so we are waiting for the discussion”) is aimed at breaking some Shiv Sena MLAs from the party but I wonder if that might be entirely wise from the point of view of those legislators.
I notice a lot of support growing for Uddhav even among those who voted for Modi during the Lok Sabha polls and if the Sena president is given more than the 20 days that he had to deliver the goods at the assembly elections, he might do a better job than what everyone expects of him at the moment.
However, the Sena’s biggest handicap, I believe, is its emphasis on Hindutva. It is the reason for its trouble with the BJP in the first place for neither the RSS nor Modi want to share that space with another party.
However, looking at the history of the Sena, I believe Hindutva was only a calculated move by Bal Thackeray in the 1980s – he arrived at that even before the BJP – to keep his party relevant at a time when regionalism and the original Sena plank of jobs and housing for the Marathi manoos had played itself out and was not working beyond Bombay.
Uddhav now has the opportunity to correct that course again. He can take lessons from Modi and rejig his party once again towards the aspirational youth and issues that move them beyond Hindutva, without quite losing the Sena’s regional flavour, much in the manner of the South Indian parties (the Dravida parties of Tamil Nadu, the Telugu Desam in Andhra Pradesh et al). Aspirations are not the exclusive domain of any one community and that might even bring back the Muslim voters to the Shiv Sena who have been recently attracted to the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen for similar reasons.
The possibilities are many. And politics, after all, is the art of making the impossible, well, possible