Friends turn foes during elections

In politics, what is seen is not always true. Pictures of camaraderie may turn out to be far from the reality. To substantiate further, look at the current political scenario in Maharashtra — it shows that the Congress and the NCP have been alliance partners for 14 years and are running the Democratic Front government since 1999. But, they are the biggest competitors of each other, both in pursuit of expanding their political bases.

The principal opposition parties — BJP and Shiv Sena — have been together for over two and a half decades. But, instances from history say they are not natural allies. Both BJP and the Sena try to outsmart each other, especially in the assembly elections. This is due to an age-old formula, which says that the post of CM, if the alliance comes to power, will go in favour of the party with the maximum number of MLAs. Since 1999, Sena has always suspected that BJP tries to defeat its candidates.

The Maharashtra Navniraman Sena (MNS) is the latest to join the show of provisional friends and foes in politics. Its leader Raj Thackeray recently kicked a storm, saying Narendra Modi should have quit the post of Gujarat CM soon after his name was announced as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. His statement came as a rude shock for the BJP, because his camaraderie with Modi had been a talking point in the party’s circles. And it was presumed that because of Modi’s intervention, Thackeray had consented to be a partner of the saffron alliance in Maharashtra and that his party would be allotted four Lok Sabha seats in the elections.

Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, a breakaway group of Shetkari Sanghatana founded by Sharad Joshi, has recently decided to align with BJP and Shiv Sena. What an irony this is, as the organisation had split over the issue of joining hands with the saffron alliance — Raju Shetti, the chief of Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, had opposed his mentor’s decision to align with Sena-BJP almost ten years ago. Now, he himself has decided to join hands with them, bolstering a belief that relations in politics are always fragile.

Last Wednesday, the NCP upped its ante during the state cabinet meeting. Deputy CM Ajit Pawar, who is also the NCP’s leader in the government, clearly told Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan that his party was ready to sit outside the government and would offer outside support to Congress. The reason for this stand is said to be Chavan’s slow pace in dealing with files and proposals. With the upcoming elections, such a situation would mar alliance prospects to win maximum seats, is the contention of NCP. ‘Are we going to handover reins of power to Opposition parties?’ was the question asked by Ajit Pawar.

Of late, the Sharad Pawar-led party has been having strong feelings that the CM was deliberately doing this to expand his party base, jeopardising NCP’s future. But, it’s payback time for the NCP, as the party was trying to expand its base from 2004 to 2009 and was projecting Ajit Pawar as the next CM. During the Lok Sabha elections held in 2009, it was said that the NCP lost at least three parliamentary seats thanks to Congress leaders’ strategies. Now, NCP has issued a veiled threat that the state cabinet would meet twice a week to make decisions that would help the ruling alliance face upcoming elections with some teeth. For the common man, such politics go against the spirit of democracy. His question — do elected governments work just for six months and to win future elections only — has no answer. Such a feeling gets stronger when schemes like food security are launched in view of elections only.

Coming back to the point, now that BJP and Shiv Sena have found a new friend in Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, efforts to woo the MNS will stop. The new friend will be beneficial to the saffron parties, as it has a significant presence in south Maharashtra, where the NCP is likely to suffer more. Even Congressmen have tacitly supported Raju Shetti, who is a known NCP baiter.

With MNS leader Raj Thackeray’s attack on Narendra Modi, the Congress is further happy, since a consolidation of the saffron alliance with the MNS would have become a major political threat. The Congress, and the CM in particular, were trying their best to see that Raj Thackeray did not get along with BJP-Shiv Sena. Instead, the MNS has appeared as a friend in disguise for the Congress. Raj Thackeray’s attack on Modi is unexpected for the BJP, as he was a great admirer of the Gujarat CM and had even visited the state in August 2011. Now, MNS might go all alone, like in 2009, but at the cost of its image, which until now, was perceived as a viable option for voters who had lost hopes in both the ruling Congress-NCP and the opposition BJP-Shiv Sena. A sizeable section among urban voters, distraught by the experiments of traditional parties, may go with the Aam Aadmi Party.

— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY

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