Have ties between alliance partners Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) reached breaking point?
The parties have had bitter tussles in the past, but have kept the alliance going as they have a common voter base.
But at the end of the NCP’s two-day conclave in Aurangabad, party leaders said they could not afford to ignore the Congress’s plan to regain the ground it had lost to NCP in Maharashtra.
“Though the Congress would not want to lose its government in the state [by breaking ties with the NCP], we can’t ignore the change in the attitude of its leaders. We expect more trouble now as Rahul Gandhi’s Mumbai tour has revived the local party unit’s confidence,” an NCP leader said.
The NCP has been on the back-foot after last year’s general and Assembly polls as it failed to better its 2004 performance. The Congress, on the other hand, has become more confident in the state, with leaders like Vilasrao Deshmukh demanding an end to the alliance. In the last month, Congress leaders have attacked Pawar over the price rise issue, and at the Congress Working Committee meet last week, some leaders — including Deshmukh — demanded that some of his portfolios be taken away.
Pawar’s meeting with Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray is seen as NCP’s reply to this offensive.
“An NCP- Sena alliance is not improbable in the future. The Sena has been at its lowest, its ties with BJP shaky, and the NCP is anxious about the Congress. It will rock the boat if pushed into a corner,’’ said B. Venkatesh Kumar, political analyst.
The limited purpose of Sunday’s meet, however, was to send a message to the Congress that it should not pressure Pawar by taking away any of his portfolios, he added.
The NCP has key portfolios in the state government, and its ministers are now expected to take a hard line to ward off Congress dominance.
The NCP and Sena don’t have the numbers to form a government but with the help of the BJP and Independents, they could cobble up an alternative if it comes to that, say party functionaries.
Deputy CM Chhagan Bhujbal denied the possibility of such an equation emerging and stressed there was nothing political about the Pawar — Thackeray meet.
With the Bihar elections, the Union budget and the BMC elections in 2012 approaching, the Congress may keep mum for now. But the alliance is on shaky ground.