Strange are the ways of politics. Instead of saffron versus secular, it’s going to be regional versus national in Maharashtra, no matter whether BJP-Shiv Sena and Congress-NCP contest together or against each other.
Eyeing the chief minister’s office, regional outfits are haggling for a bigger share of seats to contest. It is a do-or-die battle on either side of the saffron-secular divide as the face-off is symptomatic of internecine battles to capture or retain larger swathes of political turfs.
The Sena is worried that an opportunity now lost to grab the CM slot for Uddhav Thackeray might see the party — robbed of its political swagger since the demise of Bal Thackeray — bundled out from its citadel by a resurgent BJP. To that extent, it sees a rival bigger in BJP than in Congress-NCP.
Anxieties similar to that of the Sena also haunt the NCP as its supremo, Sharad Pawar, is out of electoral politics and keen to settle the succession issue in his lifetime. It’s an open secret that his nephew Ajit Pawar isn’t mighty happy over the emergence of Pawar senior’s daughter Supriya Sule within the party.
Insiders in the shaky saffron alliance believe the seat-sharing dispute could have been contained had the BJP promised Uddhav the CM’s office. The Sena boss is a votary of direct rule, not the politics of remote control his father so effectively exercised.
So overwhelming was the de facto supremacy of Bal Thackeray that he needed no de jure coronation. But Uddhav requires it to forever marginalise his estranged cousin Raj Thackeray who is more charismatic and reportedly close to Modi.
It is widely believed that the BJP could have handled its ally better. There was no need for instance for the saffron party to let it out in the media that it no longer considered Bal Thackeray’s Mumbai residence, Matoshree, the sanctum sanctorum of Maharashtra politics. The Sena had also felt slighted by the ‘minor’ portfolios it got in the Union Cabinet.
The rising profile of Uddhav’s son Aditya is another Sena sub-plot bearing resemblance with Pawar’s plans. It isn’t surprising therefore that the NCP wants a rotational arrangement for the CM’s office in the outside change of its alliance with the Congress, weighed down as it is by a 15-year anti-incumbency, holding on to power the fourth time in a row.
Be that as it may. The Maharashtra polls wouldn’t just be adversarial. They’d be as much fratricidal.