The coming together of six Opposition parties to launch a protest march against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government demanding farm loan waiver could be a precursor to a Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)-led coalition of opposition parties to counter the BJP in 2019 elections in Maharashtra.
The Sangharsh Yatra taken out through 16 districts of the state by the Opposition parties to demand farm loan waiver concluded at Panvel near Mumbai on Tuesday. Following UP government’s decision on the same day, Opposition parties have now mounted further pressure on the Devendra Fadnavis government to grant Rs30,000 crore loan waiver for farmers in Maharashtra. The six parties are now planning to further intensify their campaign for a farm loan waiver as they think the issue can damage the BJP in rural Maharashtra.
Congress state unit chief Ashok Chavan said there is possibility of Opposition parties coming together. “We have taken on the BJP-led government on the issues that bother the common man including farmers. Since all opposition parties have similar agenda, why shouldn’t we come together?”he said.
The farmers are in distress due to various reasons including fallen prices of agricultural commodities in the markets and unseasonal rains.
The Sangharsh Yatra and the move to continue with the joint agitations is being seen as an indication that the efforts to build a Bihar-type broad opposition coalition to counter the BJP are being undertaken by the Congress and the NCP. The other opposition parties that are part of the agitation are Peasents and Workers Party (PWP), Samajwadi Party, Janata Dal (S) and Republican Party of India (Kawade faction).
“It is the beginning. We took out the Sangharsh Yatra together. Now we are discussing how to take our agitation for loan waiver forward. We will take one step at a time,” state NCP chief Sunil Tatkare told HT on Wednesday.
The Congress-NCP are rattled by the BJP’s performance in the recent local body polls when it did well in both urban as well as rural areas. The two parties are also irked by the BJP’s plans to poach on their influential leaders and legislators to fortify its position in the run up to 2019 elections. It is generally believed in political circles that the BJP government in the state would prefer Assembly elections alongwith Lok Sabha elections in 2019. The five-year tenure of the Maharashtra Assembly will end six months after the Lok Sabha elections.
PWP leader Jayant Patil said his party is strongly in favour of a coalition of secular and like minded parties to defeat the BJP. “This government is against the farmers and labourers and hence it must be defeated. We are in favour of a broad opposition coalition in Maharashtra,” he said.
The two main Opposition parties, the Congress and the NCP, have already come closer. “It is more or less clear that Congress and NCP will come together for next assembly elections because we don’t have an option if we want to win power in the state. We lost power in 2014 mainly because we contested separately. Further, if we get like-minded parties with us, we can avoid further split in anti-BJP votes,”said a senior Congress leader.
In Bihar, prominent parties came together to build a broad opposition coalition which proved a winning combination opposite the BJP. A similar experiment is possible in Maharashtra, he added.
This is not the first time that such an experiment is being done in Maharashtra. The first non-Congress government in the state was formed by Sharad Pawar by bringing together opposition parties in 1978. In 1998 parliamentary polls, Pawar again worked out a Congress-SP-RPI coalition which won 37 out of 48 seats in Maharashtra. At that time Pawar was in Congress. Since 1999, both Congress and NCP have been taking smaller parties including various factions of Dalit-oriented Republican Party of India along to avoid split in votes against BJP and Shiv Sena.
Significantly, if the Congress-NCP manage to work out such a coalition, there is likely to be a triangular contest in Maharashtra as BJP’s ruling partner Shiv Sena has already announced that it will contest all future elections on its own.