Maha move: Congress means business, now | Opinion
By joining the alliance headed by the Shiv Sena, the Congress has sent out a powerful political message that it is willing to do business with parties that it would not have allied with some time back.
The party has also dropped its age-old ‘support from outside’ norm that it consistently followed at the Centre till the formation of the United Progressive Alliance. Even in states such as Uttar Pradesh, it had preferred the outside support option than joining the government.
A senior Congress leader from Uttar Pradesh, while justifying the change in the party’s strategy, said: “Maharashtra is a different story, but we have been out of power in several other states. A generation born after the 1990s has not seen our governance in states like Uttar Pradesh. For the revival of the Congress , it is now essential for the party to be in power.”
Behind the Congress’ change in stance is the realisation that the politics of the country has moved beyond the 1990s rhetoric of secularism versus communalism, with the Ram Mandir-Babri Masjid issue creating a bipolar polity.
Since then, the Muslims have also come a long way, as reflected in their, by and large, acceptance of the Supreme Court verdict on the emotive Ayodhya issue that had haunted them for decades. They, too, are willing to experiment with new political combinations, including the ones with hardliners like the Shiv Sena, as long as it keeps the BJP out of power.
Apparently Muslims have forgiven the Congress for its perceived role in the demolition of the Ayodhya shrine. The Congress government was at the Centre in December 1992 when the Kar Sewaks had brought down the disputed shrine.
Shivanand Tiwari, a political expert from Bihar, said, “The Congress decision to join hands with Shiv Sena will not have any impact on its relationship with like-minded parties in the country as they have drafted a common minimum programme, keeping out the Sena’s Hindutva agenda. Also, while the Sena has already toned down its anti-North Indian stance, it will have to change its mindset now.”
Incidentally, this is not the first time that the Congress has supported a non-BJP coalition. Even at the Centre, it supported governments led by Vishwanath Pratap Singh in 1989, Deve Gowda in 1996, IK Gujaral in 1997 etc. But they were all like-minded parties.
Ahead of the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress had finally decided to enter into a coalition with like-minded secular parties. However, the party, led by many veterans who preferred the path of going on its own, remained selective in joining the government.
In Uttar Pradesh in 2003, the Congress supported the Mulayam Singh Yadav government from outside despite the latter’s personal meetings with Sonia Gandhi, who was already under pressure from state leaders to join the government. Even in the 2017 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, when Akhilesh Yadav (SP) and Rahul Gandhi (Congress) struck up a pre-poll pact, the question of jointly forming the government was always in doubt. In neighbouring Bihar, the Congress did join the Rabri Devi-led government but had initially kept away from the one led by her husband, Lalu Yadav.
Although the party has aligned with the RJD in Bihar, Janata Dal (Gowda) in Karnataka and with the DMK and AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, it has so far been with parties that fought elections on the slogan of secularism, and not Hindutva.
This is the first time that the Congress has ventured out of its comfort zone and allied with a party like the Shiv Sena, which had vowed it would ensure the construction of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. The Congress has maintained a studied silence on the matter ever since the apex court’s verdict.