In Maharashtra, the fight is between the Congress and the Shiv Sena

  • Sujata Anandan, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jun 22, 2016 17:52 IST
Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray speaks to party workers in Mumbai in June 2013. (Satish Bate/ HT file photo)

As in science, so in politics, I have noticed over the years that no one is able to defy gravity--what goes up must necessarily come down.

The only question is when: sooner or later? Then again there is always a sense of poetic justice in the way events shape up--going up the ladder if you have kicked those going down in the teeth, they come back to bite you when you are sliding down.

Now, at no time has this been more visible than when two strong leaders--Narendra Modi of the BJP and Sharad Pawar of the NCP--kicked their allies, the Shiv Sena and the Congress respectively, and thought their personalities were enough to win elections and sustain their parties in Maharashtra.

The Congress though did one better than the NCP, which got 41 seats in the Assembly against the Congress’s 42, and the Shiv Sena was not at all decimated as the BJP had hoped. Since then, the Sena and the Congress have been winning a series of local self government elections in the state, with the Congress in the lead, the BJP bringing up the rear and the Sena and the NCP intermittently exchanging their positions as the second and third parties of choice.

It stands to reason then that both the “strong” parties are now desperate to ally again with their former partners but will not make a big show of it. It is not quite a coincidence that NCP leader Praful Patel at a public meeting in Wardha last week was “non-chalant” about an alliance with the Congress in the series of local self-government elections due from September – he left it to the local units to decide if they wished for a tie-up with the Congress.

Reading between the lines, NCP workers saw that as a message that they had no go but to ally with the Congress, else they may be unable to gain control of a single civic body in the state. The BJP, too, has equally underplayed their desperation though they have been a little more revealing in their desire to ally with the Sena by dropping enough hints and leaving it to Uddhav Thackeray to decide.

I guess both the Sena and the Congress are savouring their moment of triumph but have really no reason to put their potential allies out of their misery anytime soon. Leaders of both the parties are meek and it is lost on no one who inherits the earth, with or without an ally.

For the Congress, I believe, it is best they do nothing. A lack of a visible leadership is not necessarily a bad thing for the party because its roots run deep and the less Congress leaders give an opportunity to their rivals both within and outside the party, the better their chances are that the people will forget their transgressions and choose a known devil they have dealt with and managed with for years.

The beef ban aside, which is causing immense distress in the rural areas, I believe the Congress was simply lucky that it was not in power when the state faced its worst-ever drought this summer – I do not think anyone could have managed the situation any better. Now, that gives the party a handle against the government and perhaps that is the reason why the BJP is suffering enormously at LSG polls, including in Vidarbha, from where it got the bulk of its seats in the Assembly – it has been consistently last behind all the other parties.

For the Shiv Sena, the situation is a little more complicated – they are best at opposing the government but when they are equal partners in that government, it is rather difficult to convince the people of the seriousness of their intent. It rather looks like the Sena wants to eat its cake and have it too. Yet they do seem to be rather more alive and energetic than the lethargic and comatose Congress – it confounds me why the Congress should then still be leading the Sena in the LSG bodies.

Still there are a lot of similarities between the present day Sena and the Congress. Their leaders are humbler, low key, less boastful, more self-deprecating. Nevertheless, I believe the fight, including in Bombay, remains between these two. The only question is which of them will inherit Maharashtra, come September 2016.

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