The rate at which the Shiv Sena is ceding ground, the Opposition space in the state will soon be up for grabs.
The easiest way of explaining the Sena’s support for Pranab Mukherjee as Presidential candidate would be to refer to the long history of its collaboration with the Congress.
The Sena was propped up by the Congress in the 1960s to decimate the Communists and neutralise long-entrenched Communist unions in Mumbai; it flourished under the watch of former CMs Vasantrao Naik (in the late 60s and early 70s) and AR Antulay (in the early 80s), and extended its support to the Emergency; Congress leader Vasantdada Patil gave a beleaguered Sena a fresh lease of life in 1985 by making the controversial statement that Mumbai was in Maharashtra, but there was no sign of Maharashtra in Mumbai; the Sena chief and Sharad Pawar have always got along famously; the Sena supported Pratibha Patil in the previous Presidential poll, saying the party was backing her as a Maharashtrian; and very recently, another Congress chief minister, Prithviraj Chavan, gave the perhaps-as-beleagured-as-in-1985 party new wind by controversially suggesting that after the BMC polls in February 2012, Bal Thackeray’s influence would be zilch in the city.
Intriguing as this history is, the recent support for Pranab has more to do with the Sena’s act of diminishing its own Oppositional status, an act it has carried out systematically for more than a decade.
The relationship between the ruling alliance and the Opposition in Maharashtra underwent a serious change after the 1999 elections.
Much of that had to do with land use in Mumbai, the by-now infamous Slum Rehabilitation policy and the practice of redevelopment that spread across the city in much the same way that the flames spread across Mantralaya the other day.
While the ruling parties made merry, the Opposition too acted in such a way as to invite allegations of co-operation, and its lumpen cadre was used by the land mafia and other vested interests to intimidate and to crush anyone who objected to the vertical growth of the city.
During the Congress-NCP’s stint in power between 1999 and 2004, the Sena and BJP hardly raised any issues that put the ruling alliance in a corner: their standout act was a feeble and much-publicised attempt at the “chamatkar” of getting the numbers on their side in the legislature.
As a result, the Cong-NCP were re-elected in 2004. Between 2004 and 2009, the position of the Sena-BJP, which by now hardly saw eye to eye on most issues, was even further diminished, and merely sporadic noises about farmers’ suicides could not rescue the Sena from being relegated to the number four position in the Assembly in 2009.
Now it seems determined to blow its chance of getting to power in 2014. Ever since 2009, the scams that have come to light — Adarsh, a Congress leader’s disproportionate assets, or misuse of land given to trusts belonging to politicians — have had either to do with sustained reporting by the media, public interest litigations filed by civil society activists, or CAG reports.
This is a microcosm of what is happening at the Centre: the capturing of adversarial space by the Anna Hazare movement and the revelation of irregularities by the CAG.
So, somebody else is acting as a watchdog already; the support for Pranab, inexplicable as it is, weakens the Sena’s position even more.