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Necessity makes for strange bedfellows

Shiv Sena, carved out of the Congress, have shared a strange relationship.

mumbai Updated: Mar 28, 2017 14:01 IST
Sujata Anandan
MUMBAI
But now, all across Maharashtra, in the zilla parishads and panchayat samitis where the Shiv Sena had a fighting chance at electing its own president, the Congress and the Communists have come together to help defeat the BJP, which has now emerged as the common enemy for all opposition parties in the state.(HT)

The Shiv Sena was set up in 1966 by khadi-clad Congressmen who wanted to loosen the grip of Communist parties in Bombay. Over the next decade, they succeeded to a large extent in reducing the Left parties to a rump in both trade union activities and electoral politics. According to Madhav Deshpande, one of the Sena founders, Thackeray had a love-hate relationship with many of his political rivals, including the Congress, and in the later years, the BJP, but he never got over his paranoia for the Communists. That is because, as Deshpande says it, they had attempted to put an end to the threat from the Sena by hatching a plot to decimate Thackeray at one of his political rallies. Other Sena leaders got wind of it and threw a protective ring round Thackeray until he reached home safe – in the later years when a group of Shiv Sainiks were accused of killing Communist MLA Krishna Desai in Parel, the Congress even helped the Sena win the by-election from Desai’s consitutency to get its first MLA in the Maharashtra Assembly.

But now, all across Maharashtra, in the zilla parishads and panchayat samitis where the Shiv Sena had a fighting chance at electing its own president, the Congress and the Communists have come together to help defeat the BJP, which has now emerged as the common enemy for all opposition parties in the state. The BJP’s astounding performance in not just the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation election but all across the state is owed in no small measure to defections from the Congress, Nationalist Congress Party and Shiv Sena. It picked and chose candidates from these parties with care – all potential winners who their parent parties let go without heeding the BJP’s game plan. But now, despite being rather bushed at these polls, the Shiv Sena has lost none of its sting and continues to be a troublesome ally to the ruling party. The BJP is thus said to be hatching a plot to now engineer defections of sitting MLAs in the Assembly from not just the Sena but also from the Congress and NCP. Though they have nothing in common with the BJP ideologically, Congress and NCP MLAs are being tempted with the prospect of striking a deal with the ruling party to go slow on cases of corruption against them — they have been frightened by what has happened to Chhagan Bhujbal and believe joining the BJP will save them from a similar fate.

Now, with rumours gaining ground that 29 MLAs from these parties might soon defect to the BJP, furious efforts from leaders of all the threatened parties are underway to stall their exit, which can happen only if these parties can come up with a better game plan than the BJP. Not surprising, then, that a nexus is growing between the Congress, NCP and Shiv Sena and leaders of the parties are making no bones about this strange coming together of unlikely partners. Congress leaders at first were worried about a backlash if they were seen cosying up to the Sena but with no seeming reaction from the people at the grassroots, their moves got rather emboldened. Ajit Pawar of the NCP has even given an open call for all forces opposing the BJP to come together overtly before it is too late.

Ajit has been urged to make this move because of reports of a core committee meeting of the BJP last week where it is said the party discussed several scenarios, including a mid-term poll or getting MLAs to quit their parties and contest on the BJP’s symbol – it is unlikely that it will be able to get two-thirds of MLAs from any of the three parties to avoid the anti-defection law. So in case the MLAs do quit as BJP candidates, Ajit has proposed to make it impossible for them to win. According to him, all three parties will fight against the BJP, there will be only one opposition candidate supported by the other two parties.

Ajit has gone on so far as to say that he has already spoken to Shiv Sena leaders on this but both the Sena and the Congress are adopting a wait-and-watch attitude. However, it is unlikely that the BJP will have a cakewalk this time round in the by-elections. The instinct for survival has kicked in and in this existentialist battle, there is no line dividing the left, the right and the centre.

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