Day after divorces, knives out in Maharashtra's political arena

A day after long-standing political formations crumbled in Maharashtra, BJP, Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP are playing the blame game and pointing fingers at each other for the split

Knives were out in Maharashtra's political arena, a day after long-standing political formations crumbled, with former allies turning foes and attacking each other.

Though primarily the tussle over chief ministership and reluctance to cede ground to 'junior partners' led to the collapse of 25-year-old BJP-Shiv Sena alliance and Congress-NCP coalition of 15 years, they blamed each other for the separation.

Sena, which together with BJP sang the 'Hindutva' tune during the existence of the alliance, changed track calling its erstwhile saffron ally the "enemy of Maharashtra", signalling a possible return to its original 'Marathi pride' agenda.

Knives are out in Maharashtra's political arena, a day after long-standing political formations crumbled, with former allies turning foes and attacking each other

"Our other (Mahayuti) alliance parties wanted the Sena-BJP association to continue. More than that, it was what the 11 crore people of Maharashtra wanted. Those who trampled these sentiments are enemies of Maharashtra," Sena said in an editorial in party mouthpiece 'Saamana'.

"This (breaking of alliance) is an insult to the 105 Marathi martyrs of the Samyukta Maharashtra movement," the editorial went on to say.
"Those who till yesterday were praying in this tent are now offering namaz in the other tent," it said, apparently targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his recent remarks praising the "patriotism" of Indian Muslims.

BJP promptly hit back, saying the Sena should not have expected it to be a party to the "betrayal" of smaller constituents of 'Mahayuti', a rainbow alliance of six parties forged just before Lok Sabha polls.

"They possibly had the chief ministership in mind and hence the formula which they proposed to us would have resulted in complete elimination of our smaller alliances.

That would have been a bigger betrayal of our alliance and the Shiv Sena could not have expected us to be a part of the betrayal arrangement," BJP General Secretary incharge of Maharashtra Rajiv Pratap Rudy said.

"Such comments made by the Sena, a day after the alliance breaks are very disappointing and uncalled for. It is desirable that they would refrain from making such unfortunate comments about us," Rudy said.

As Shiv Sena indicated it would aggressively push its "sons-of-the-soil" agenda in the run up to polls, BJP asserted that issues of 'Marathi pride' and Maratha King Shivaji could not be monopolised by its estranged ally.

"Pride of Mumbai and Marathi is not the monopoly of Shiv Sena or Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). This issue is whipped up to garner votes. We are a national party but we too have fought for Marathi," senior BJP leader and Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Eknath Khadse told a Marathi TV news channel.

Rancour was in evidence between Congress and NCP too. Congress, which together with NCP gave the state a stable dispensation for 15 years, accused its former ally of trying to "get close" to BJP.

"This is not surprising for us because we knew that over the past one-and-a-half to two months, NCP has been trying to get close to the BJP. We were prepared for this and we were already shortlisting candidates for all seats," AICC Media Department Chairman Ajay Maken told reporters here.

"This has been Congress' false propoganda for the last 15 years. We are a secular party and we don't need a certificate of our secular credentials from Congress, which is spreading such canard out of fear," NCP spokesman Nawab Malik said, rebutting the charge, while
Rudy too denied that the two parties were coming together.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar said separation was the result of "significant differences" with Congress on "critical issues" which forced his party to take the "bold" step of ending the alliance in Maharashtra.

In a series of tweets, Pawar said, "I would like to say that there were significant differences between our party & Congress on various critical issues. Due to time constraint & other issues, we were compelled to take bold step to end 15 years of alliance with Congress in Maharashtra.

"So our party has decided to contest this elections independently and we will be happy to take support from other secular parties," he said without elaborating on the "critical issues" but NCP's demand for rotational chief ministership and sharing equal number of state's 288 Assembly seats with Congress were the sticking points during seat-sharing deliberations.

It is common knowledge that BJP and NCP were not comfortable with continued dominance of Shiv Sena and Congress in their respective alliances. Though the Congress-NCP combine was decimated in Lok Sabha elections, the latter had managed to secure four seats, twice more than Congress, and that provided it the ground to claim a larger share of seats in the Assembly polls.

BJP, which had won 46 seats in 2009 Assembly polls, one more than Shiv Sena despite contesting 50 seats less than the ally, and its spectacular showing in this year's Lok Saba poll led to the urge for coming out of the shadows of the 'big brother'. The ties between the saffron allies had come under strain earlier when the Sena decided to back 'Marathi' Pratibha Patil and then Pranab Mukherjee in the Presidential elections going against NDA's official stand but BJP had chosen to remain silent, playing a second fiddle to the charismatic Bal Thackeray in Maharashtra politics.

With Thackeray gone, BJP wanted a level playing field for itself. BJP's eagerness for a larger political space was evident when Rudy said, "After 25 years, people in Maharashtra have got a chance to choose a single party government that could serve them and BJP will remain the first choice of the people."

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