Can Raj-Rahul-Pawar Troika Halt BJP March in Maharashtra? What Sonia's Meeting With Thackeray Means
If Raj Thackeray can be acceptable as a campaign partner, he might as well be a pre-poll ally and share seats with the Congress-NCP coalition.
MNS chief Raj Thackeray meets UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi on July 8, 2019.
A few months ago, a meeting between MNS chief Raj Thackeray and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi would have been politically untenable. But then, politics is the art of the possible.
Thackeray called on the former Congress president in Delhi earlier this week amid churning in Maharashtra politics and possible political realignments in the poll-bound state.
Much has changed since the BJP victory in May this year and the return of Narendra Modi as the prime minister for a second consecutive term.
With the opposition’s back to the wall in the crucial state amid the saffron surge, the meeting between Gandhi and Thackeray signalled that the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena is no more untouchable for the Congress party.
An upbeat BJP, led by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, is confident of a second term in office without much effort. Fadnavis has been claiming that the BJP-Shiv Sena combine would win at least 220 of the total 288 seats in the Assembly in elections likely to be held in October-end. Elections to Haryana and Jharkhand Assemblies are also due soon. All three states are ruled by the BJP.
Confidence in the ruling circles is growing by the day after the Bombay High Court ruled in favour of Maratha reservation. Marathas constitute 32 per cent of the population of the state.
Though the Shiv Sena is an ally of the BJP, it has virtually been forced to play second fiddle both in the state and at the Centre after Modi ensured 303 seats for the ruling party in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The Sena is silently sulking for not getting a plum ministry at the Centre, but has no option but to remain subdued.
Although Raj Thackeray’s MNS did not contest the Lok Sabha elections, he campaigned for the Congress-NCP candidates in Maharashtra and had emerged as a crowd puller much envied by local BJP leaders. His campaign though could not translate into votes. Thackeray attributed the BJP’s victory to the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi led by Prakash Ambedkar and rebels in the Congress and the NCP, besides the EVMs. He thinks Ambedkar and his Aghadi, including Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM, put up candidates to divide the opposition votes.
Thackeray met Sonia Gandhi after realising that the state Congress is in no position to take a call on pre-poll alliances, seat-sharing or joint campaigns without clearance from the high command. If Raj Thackeray can be acceptable as a campaign partner, he might as well be a pre-poll ally and share seats with the Congress-NCP coalition.
The BJP’s triumphant march in Maharashtra is slowly but surely changing politics in the state. On the one hand, it is uniting opposition parties, and on the other, it has weakened ally Shiv Sena’s plank of ‘Marathi manoos’ and Hindutva.
For the Congress, the upcoming Assembly polls are a do-or-die, now-or-never battle. The party has become leaderless and its support base is eroding rapidly. But a coming together of the anti-BJP parties along with Raj Thackeray’s MNS could make the battle interesting. Raj Thackeray’s charisma in urban areas, Sharad Pawar’s poll strategy and anti-incumbency could make Maharashtra an intense battle.
Rahul Gandhi, who has declared his readiness to fight the BJP with a renewed resolve, has told state Congress leaders that he is ready to spend a month campaigning in Maharashtra.
Will Raj, Rahul, Pawar troika arrest BJP’s march in Maharashtra, a state which has witnessed coalition rule since 1995. The BJP is confident of retaining power, riding on the Maratha reservation order, desertions from the Congress-NCP, and division of opposition votes.
(The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.)
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