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For Congress voters, choice is between bad and worse

Since the polarisation of the nation, Congress voters are unlikely to forgive the party if they deal in any way with the Shiv Sena. Nonetheless, they will have to decide if the Sena’s past misdeeds should be considered worse than the coming threat to the nation

mumbai Updated: Jun 05, 2018 23:57 IST
Sujata Anandan
Sujata Anandan
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Congress,Shiv Sena
Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray.(HT FILE)

As the countdown to the Lok Sabha elections begins, the writing on the wall is clear. The opposition unity underway to take on the BJP in 2019 will be different from the kind put together in 1977 to take on the mighty Congress or even the one fronted by VP Singh to defeat Rajiv Gandhi in 1989. Those times, India was a unipolar polity and the choices were clear. Regional parties were almost inconsequential. Bar one – the Shiv Sena. Bal Thackeray had supported Indira Gandhi’s Emergency in 1975 and had not yet distinguished himself as a communalist par excellence. Those were things to come post-Mrs Gandhi’s assassination in 1984. So the Sena was not part of the Janata Party and actually facilitated the victory of the Congress in 1980, after the Janata government collapsed at the Centre. The BJP, too, was yet to be born but by the mid-1980s when it was still experimenting with Gandhian socialism in the wake of its Janata Party experience. Bal Thackeray had become so extremely rightist that even the BJP chose to support a centrist candidate at the 1987 bypolls to the Vile Parle assembly seat wherein the Sena defeated the Congress on its Hindutva plank. Soon the BJP and the Sena came together and their involvement in the post-Babri Masjid riots changed political equations forever. Suddenly they were toxic parties, brothers in arms, one worse than the other, with whom the Congress could not be seen alive or dead in any arrangement, overt or covert.

So how does Uddhav Thackeray now issue a call to all ‘like-minded’ parties to come together to defeat the BJP in 2019? Who can be as like-minded as the Sena but for the BJP? How can the Shiv Sena think it can be as like-minded as any other party in the country?

The answer to that is that to the Sena today, as other parties, like-mindedness is simply the singular aim of defeating the BJP in 2019 and perhaps many other parties may not have problems taking it on board. Predictably, NCP president Sharad Pawar on Monday extended an open invitation to the Sena to come to strategic arrangements with other political parties to defeat the BJP. That means there may be no open alliance with the Congress which, for reasons of the Sena’s past, cannot make an overt alliance with the party. So there will be backroom deals wherein the Shiv Sena will strategically field its strongest candidates against the BJP and weakest ones against the Congress and the NCP to facilitate and help the opposition.

The BJP may have won the Palghar Lok Sabha seat by the skin of its teeth but its victory is no cause for celebration. For one, it has shown not just the Shiv Sena its own strength but also the Congress its weakness — the latter was at fifth position in this election. An opposition unity, like in Bhandara-Gondia, would have turned the tables on the BJP much more easily than standing aloof and apart as they did in Palghar for obvious reasons.But it is clear now that the BJP has lost the Shiv Sena almost completely except under one circumstance – that Amit Shah offers to restore the Sena to its Big Brother status as during the time of Bal Thackeray when he meets Uddhav tomorrow. And that can only come at a very heavy price: more seats to the Shiv Sena at both the Lok Sabha and assembly polls. The BJP will be damned if it gives in to the Sena’s demands and damned if it doesn’t. I tend to think it won’t concede.

That leaves the Sena with no option but to take up Sharad Pawar on his offer. While the NCP would have no qualms in dealing with the Sena, it would be interesting to see how the Congress resolve s its moral dilemma. The Sena is, after all, a creature of the Congress which would not have come into being had the party not needed a proxy to take on the Communists in Mumbai. They supported and funded Bal Thackeray who was content to remain on the side-lines of polity in return for both overt and covert rewards from the Congress. But since the polarisation of the nation, Congress voters are unlikely to forgive the party if they deal in any way with the Shiv Sena. Nonetheless, they will have to decide if the Sena’s past misdeeds should be considered worse than the coming threat to the nation. The choice is not an easy one between good and bad but a difficult one between two impossible and unacceptable options. The voters’ ultimate decision would determine if there will, once again, be a tectonic shift in political equations in the country.

First Published: Jun 05, 2018 23:53 IST