The Congress is at its nadir and the BJP is at its peak. The former can fall no lower and one is not sure how much more is left for the latter to scale. The best time then is now for these two major parties to shrug off their allies and strike out on their own.
Sensing the Congress’ weakness the NCP, as usual, has begun to demand its pound of flesh. Even though it has double the tally of the Congress in the Lok Sabha from Maharashtra, the NCP has nonetheless lost its status as a national party for posting a low voter percentage and not winning enough seats across the country. That only goes to prove that however badly the Congress does, it can still keep its head above water and the NCP desperately needs the Congress’ shoulders to stand on for its survival.
When I asked chief minister Prithviraj Chavan last week about the NCP’s insistence that the party be given more seats in the assembly, he was dismissive. “We have fought five elections together and they make similar noises every time. But ultimately they settle for what is best for everybody.’’ And by that he probably meant the “best’’ will be what the Congress will eventually decide.
Chavan is not wrong in dismissing the NCP off hand because although Sharad Pawar may conceal it well, his party is on the verge of breaking up due to family pressures — he must now cling to the Congress even more firmly to salvage his reputation from the ruins. Congressmen, on the other hand, believe the NCP would have been a dead entity by now if it had not made the mistake of teaming up with the breakaway party in 1999 to form a government in the state. There are many party workers who are attempting to persuade their party leaders to go it alone this time round — they believe they will lose anyway, so why carry the burden of the NCP into that defeat? Their conviction is that the failures of the Maharashtra government and its battered image are due to the NCP and not the Congress ministers in the cabinet. “If we do not seize this moment and kick the NCP, we will be prisoners of Sharad Pawar’s shenanigans forever,’’ one Congress legislator told me.
The BJP, on the other hand, has never had it better and believes that the Shiv Sena will only drag it down in the assembly elections and hence would want to cash in on Narendra Modi’s charisma to the maximum extent possible. While the state unit for long has wanted to shed the burden of the Sena, leaders like Nitin Gadkari and the late Gopinath Munde were in the past stopped by their senior LK Advani, essentially because the Sena was crucial to the latter’s ambition of becoming PM. But now that is a non-issue and they already have their PM. Tagging along with the Sena only continues to deny them grassroots support in the villages — young as most of the state BJP leaders are, they would like to start putting down their own roots now so that they can be in charge of their own political fortunes in a few years.
Given the Lok Sabha results, I do not think even Gadkari who was earlier sympathetic to Raj Thackeray would like an alliance even with the Maharashtra Nanvnirman Sena — under the circumstances, I believe, this is the best time for the people to test everybody’s mettle, individually. After 15 years of a Congress-NCP alliance and three decades of the Sena-BJP, the people of the state must now decide what — or who — is best for them rather than continue to be fobbed off with artificially propped up alliances.
There is really no love lost between the Sena and the BJP — they have utterly disliked each other for years. And there is no regard for each other among any of the top Congress and NCP leaders either. What keeps them together is only the spoils of war. Perhaps it is time to pull back the low-hanging branches and see how high each one can jump to get to those fruits of power.