While elections to the state assembly are barely a month away, parties do not seem to be in a hurry to ensure that the long phase of uncertainty over alliances comes to an end. Consensus seems to be eluding old partners such as Congress and NCP and BJP and Shiv Sena, creating an atmosphere of distrust. and fuelling rumours of an impending break-up.
Meetings between both sets of allies over the last month have proved a warm-up exercise, with parties busy assessing their strengths and the mood in the other camp.
The very fact that BJP chief Amit Shah, during his maiden visit to Mumbai after taking over the reins of the party, did not go on his own to Matoshree to meet Uddhav Thackeray, but had to be invited, speaks a thousand words. The much-publicised meeting elicited no final word on seat sharing from both the leaders. Clearly, there is more to this than meets the eye.
While the Shiv Sena is unwilling to cut into its quota of 169 seats in favour of the BJP, which has been its ally for more than 25 years, the ebullient BJP is not ready to accept the current formula and has submitted a new one which says that after allotting 18 seats to the four smaller parties, both partners should contest 135 seats each. The Sena hasn’t accepted it yet, and both parties have been busy chalking out their own strategies. The Congress and NCP, meanwhile, are reportedly waiting for the outcome of the BJP-Shiv Sena tussle to decide their next moves. Senior leader say that if the Sena and BJP decide to part ways, Congress and NCP are likely to do the same, fuelling speculations of some new political equations that could emerge from the ashes of the old ones.
On the NCP front, barring Sharad Pawar, no leader speaks in favour of keeping the alliance with the Congress intact. Pawar’s nephew, Deputy CM Ajit Pawar, and his close supporters are not in favour of fighting the state polls with the Congress. While the Congress and NCP launched their poll campaigns jointly in the assembly and Lok Sabha polls in 2004 and 2009, the Congress did it alone on September 1 for the assembly polls this year.
Pushed to the corner, the NCP, too, launched its campaign alone on September 6, but took care not to speak against the Congress. While Pawar senior spoke about the need of a joint campaign, his Man Friday, Praful Patel, said they were not desperate about seat sharing. We should not forget that the Congress and NCP are not natural allies, but competitors that had came together for the sake of power alone.
It is also said that the Congress is worried over reports that the NCP may be planning to field 60 rebels against its candidates — a fact that was underlined by none other than Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who spoke about this in two recent interviews. His party ministers are also upset about this and the issue figured in recent high-level meetings involving senior leaders. On the other hand, if the NCP is seriously considering doing so, it means the party is in payback mode and strongly feels that the Congress in general, and the CM in particular, always tried to weaken its base. The NCP’s game plan may also involve checking how strong it is in Maharashtra to prepare for future, probably solitary, journeys.
If the BJP and Shiv Sena part ways, the NCP may decide against aligning with the Congress, going by its recent moves in Delhi. The party has not backed the Congress strategies of cornering the BJP in Parliament during the Monsoon session. An exhaustive survey conducted recently says that the BJP- and Shiv Sena-led Mahayuti may wrest around 41 per cent of the vote share, leaving Congress and NCP at 35 per cent. While 13 per cent people have said they are still undecided on whom they will vote for, 11 per cent said they prefer independents and other smaller parties. This, and the prevailing voter mood, has rattled the ruling Congress-led Democratic Front so much that ministers are trying to save their own seats. Recently, at least six ministers, including Deputy CM Ajit Pawar, ensured lucrative postings for their private secretaries and officers on special duty. Considering that members of the personal staff of ministers are a trusted lot, their postings may come as an admission of impending defeat.
The writer is Political Editor of mid-day