On Monday, top state leaders from the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) were closeted in a meeting to discuss the alliance for the election to eight seats to the legislative council, where the Opposition has a majority and hence an advantage over the BJP-Sena government there. The discussion was about ensuring that maximum seats are retained by the Opposition. The two parties are keen to forge an alliance, although they did not reach an agreement. This also indicates that after a year of bitterness, the two former allies are inching closer to each other. It is coinciding with chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’ efforts to end the tussle with ally Shiv Sena and put a full stop over the political uncertainty in the state.
Fadnavis is not keen on joining hands with the NCP, against whom he campaigned hard during the elections. For him, the Sena is a safer option to the “tainted” NCP. He has established direct contact with Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray. His decision to allot Mumbai mayor’s bungalow to set up a memorial of Sena chief the late Bal Thackeray has pleased the Sena leadership. Unlike his predecessors from the Congress, who did not want to give any major infrastructure work to the then NCP-led Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC), Fadnavis has decided to hand over major projects to the corporation headed by Sena minister Eknath Shinde.
On Monday, the Fadnavis-led cabinet sub-committee on infrastructure cleared various projects, collectively worth Rs50,000 crore, proposed by the MSRDC. It includes government’s ambitious project such as the Rs40,000-crore Mumbai-Nagpur expressway.
So why is Fadnavis is trying to keep the Sena leadership in good humour? He believe a strong alliance with Sena will help him handle the 2017 civic polls better. Several crucial civic bodies such as Mumbai, Pune and Thane as well as the zilla parishads will go to polls in 2017. The BJP’s performance in these elections will have an impact on Fadnavis’ job as the chief minister. The BJP top brass will look at the elections as the test of his capability to win polls for the party. So he would prefer to reduce the risk and win those elections with the help of Sena by avoiding division of votes.
As such, it won’t be surprising if the Congress and NCP rekindle their lost love. The two parties have been in a love-hate relationship for more than a decade. Ahead of the 1999 elections, Pawar split the Congress in Maharashtra to form the NCP. Still, the two parties came together after the Assembly polls to form an alliance government. Despite their infighting and one-upmanship, the two parties stuck together to rule the state for 15 years. The relations between them hit an all-time low when Prithviraj Chavan was the chief minister. After Chavan took over, the NCP was hit by one scam after another. The NCP leaders saw Chavan’s hand in it. The Congress leadership did not pay heed to the NCP’s demand to remove Chavan from the post, which later led to the NCP parting ways with the Congress, after the Assembly elections were announced.
After the elections, the NCP unilaterally announced support for the BJP government, which helped the latter to bargain hard with the Sena and force it to join the government on the former’s terms. However, with Fadnavis smoking a peace pipe with the Sena and return of Ashok Chavan at the helm in the state Congress, things are changing. After Bihar results, parties like the NCP have realised the BJP is no more an unbeatable party.
The joining of hands of the two opposition parties means handling legislature will be tougher for the BJP. A year after the Assembly elections, are old friends coming closer and battlelines being drawn?