The ruling laddoo or the opposition jalebi?

mumbai Updated: Sep 12, 2018 00:49 IST
Sujata Anandan
Sujata Anandan
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,NCP,Maharashtra

Congress President Rahul Gandhi (R) and NCP Chief Sharad Pawar during 'Bharat Bandh' protest called by Congress and other parties against fuel price hike and depreciation of the rupee, in New Delhi on Monday, Sept 10(PTI)

Bandhs in this country have usually been held by various parties against Congress governments. So it has to be a departure that the Congress should hold a nationwide bandh against a party it hopes to dislodge in the coming elections in 2019. In a way, Monday’s Bharat bandh sounded the opposition’s bugle for the Lok Sabha poll with an impressive array of leaders of various political parties gathered at the Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi. Some fence sitters, of course, were not represented but it was always to be expected that those parties with the Congress still continue to be their main threat and rivals — the Telangana Rashtra Samiti of Telangana and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) of Orissa would rather be friends with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) than help to displace it in the next elections.

That is, however, quite clear and predictable. But there are two parties in the pack that come up as neither fish nor fowl nor quite red herrings. Where do the Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) fit into this scheme of things really? The bandh was called by the Congress but a day before, MNS president Raj Thackeray put out an appeal on social media to all his party workers to support the bandh. Violence, then, was to be expected but the day went off rather peacefully, with some Congressmen occupying railway tracks in an attempt to cut off Bombay’s life line. They also indulged in some vandalism but nothing on the scale of what the two Senas are capable of. The protest was accompanied by none of the usual bruising, beating or arson expected with bandhs of this nature.

That, of course, was also because it was not the Shiv Sena’s bandh. So, is the Shiv Sena now finally of a tune with the BJP after ample abuse of the ruling party for its failure to control rising petrol prices, an issue it raised before the Congress? This is where it gets very interesting and convoluted. The Shiv Sena did not participate in the bandh because it does not want to be on the same side as its cousin, the MNS. The MNS is clearly opposed to the BJP so is the Shiv Sena. Are both then with the Congress? Well, yes and no.

The Shiv Sena would dearly love to see the BJP defeated in the next elections and the best bet for this would be to join hands with the Congress. But despite showering praise on Congress president Rahul Gandhi and the latter returning the gesture by wishing Uddhav Thackeray on his birthday this year — an unprecedented gesture by a Congress leader towards the Shiv Sena — it would be impossible for them to ally because the core image of the Shiv Sena is one of communalism and violent politics.

So with the MNS openly supporting the Congress bandh, would it be easier to go with that party? In fact, that would be even more difficult given Raj Thackeray’s past history. But through it all, we must not forget, the Shiv Sena was always a creature of the Congress and the MNS had plenty of covert support from the party’s state leaders in its early formative years to help defeat the Shiv Sena, which had gone out of the Congress hands and into the arms of the BJP.

Then, let us not forget the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Sharad Pawar is now clearly rooting for the Congress-led opposition, and, for the first time, the party leaders, particularly Rahul Gandhi, is deferring to the master of the game. Pawar’s networking skills are formidable and he began this entire mahagatbandhan exercise by spearheading a ‘Save the Constitution’ rally from the Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar statue on Madame Cama Road to the Gateway of India on January 26 this year that was represented by 18 political parties. The NCP, very few may remember, is also an ally of the BJD in Orissa and, of late, Pawar has already taken both the Thackerays under his wing — Raj more overtly and Uddhav tacitly.

Given the recent equation by BJP supporters at the Chicago World Hindu Congress of Hindu society as soft or hard laddoos, I cannot help think of it all as a jalebi gatbandhan too — going round in convoluted circles that seem to have no beginning or end. In other states, the equations are simpler with clear cut proclivities of the political parties. But in Maharashtra, with the second largest number of seats in the Lok Sabha, the determinants are two saffron parties leaning towards the moderate and making secular noises. Laddoos or jalebis, then, the people will decide.

First Published: Sep 12, 2018 00:49 IST