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Battle of two coalitions in Maharashtra?

For two decades now, Maharashtra’s politics is dominated by the four parties—Congress, BJP, Shiv Sena and NCP. An alliance of two of these four parties increases their chance to win the elections

mumbai Updated: Jun 12, 2018 00:57 IST
Shailesh Gaikwad
Shailesh Gaikwad
Hindustan Times
Maharashtra,Amit Shah,BJP coalition
BJP President Amit Shah meets Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray in Mumbai on June 6, 2018.(HT Photo)

Two significant events took place in Maharashtra in the past few days. First, BJP chief Amit Shah paid a visit to Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s residence as part of his party’s move to reach out to its unhappy allies. Second, Maharashtra Congress decided to suggest party leadership to go for a coalition of like-minded parties in the state. Both the events were not unexpected and are in a way related to each other.

Following the recent Lok Sabha bypolls and the move of the Congress and the Janata Dal (S) to come together to retain power in Karnataka, there is increasing mood in the Opposition camps to join hands together to counter the BJP. The Opposition parties are considering to forge strategic alliances to avoid division of votes and thus increase their chances of winning next elections—Lok Sabha as well as state assemblies. Taking serious note of the possible damage it may cause to its electoral prospects, the BJP is now ensuring that its allies such as the Shiv Sena and the Shiromani Akali Dal stay in the NDA. Shah’s visit to Matoshree, the Bandra residence of the Thackerays, assumes significance in this context.

Following these developments, many in Maharashtra’s political circles are expecting an electoral battle between two coalitions of BJP-Shiv Sena and Congress-NCP.

For two decades now, Maharashtra’s politics is dominated by the four parties—Congress, BJP, Shiv Sena and NCP. An alliance of two of these four parties increases their chance to win the elections. The Sena-BJP could win the assembly elections in 1995 because of their alliance. Contesting together in 2004 and 2009, the Congress-NCP won assembly elections and bagged more Lok Sabha seats.

It was also observed in the past that the chances of Congress-NCP victory increased when they took along smaller secular parties that normally eat into their share of votes. In 1998 Lok Sabha elections, Sharad Pawar (who was then in the Congress) had put together a coalition of Congress, Samajwadi Party, Janata Dal (S), PWP and four different factions of Republican Party of India. The coalition had won 38 out of 48 seats. Considering their past experience, the Congress-NCP are aiming at bringing parties such as SP, JD (S), PWP, peasents leader Raju Shetti’s outfit and factions of RPI on board. This may become a formidable challenge for the ruling BJP as well as the Sena.

This would leave Uddhav Thackeray in a dilemma. Contesting solo may affect his chances of winning and as such, he will have to reconsider his decision, say the BJP leaders.

The plan in the Sena has been to contest the coming elections on its own with an assumption that further decision would be taken in the post-poll scenario. The Sena leadership was unhappy that it got a `raw deal’ while joining the BJP led governments both at the Centre and in the state and it also lost the big brother position in the alliance to the BJP. Finally, Thackeray announced his decision to go solo in all future elections. Going back on that position will be a difficult decision for him, especially explaining the change in his stance to his voters as well his cadre.

Though Thackeray has not given any indication about his decision, there is already talk in the saffron camp that the two parties are likely to discuss seat-sharing possibilities for next assembly elections. If there is an alliance, Thackeray will insist that the pact for assembly be finalized at the time of Lok Sabha polls itself, say party insiders. The seat-sharing for Lok Sabha won’t be a problem because they had contested 2014 Lok Sabha elections in an alliance. Ramdas Athawale led Republican Party of India will be their third partner.

As of now, Thackeray is keeping everybody guessing but sooner than later he will have to take a call on poll pact with the BJP to decide whether Maharashtra will return to a contest between two coalitions or will see a triangular fight in 2019.

First Published: Jun 12, 2018 00:57 IST