New Delhi: Discussions over joining hands with the Shiv Sena, arch-rival both in terms of politics and ideology, had reached a tense phase. A section of the Congress from Maharashtra and outside was opposed to any truck with — of all the parties — the Shiv Sena.
Leading the charge in the Congress Working Committee (CWC), leaders from Kerala expressed their fears about the new alliance's impact in state politics when the Congress takes on the Left in the next Assembly polls.
As the Congress was discussing the issue threadbare at every level before arriving at a decision, leaders from Maharashtra were also invited to weigh in.
Here again, there were sharp divisions between those who were well past their prime; and those who were still relevant in electoral politics.
Governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari had given Sena time till 7:30pm to show that the party had numbers to form the government. Even as the deadline neared, the impasse was far from resolved.
But what probably swung the scale of discussion in the Congress parleys towards ‘pro-government formation’ lobby was an example cited by a senior party leader.
And it was that of a former Congress MLA and minister quitting the party to join Shiv Sena just ahead of the elections and winning his seat by a comfortable margin.
The Former Animal Husbandry Minister from Sillod in Aurangabad district in Marathwada region, Abdul Sattar, has been a dyed in the wool Congressi. He left the party ahead of the Lok Sabha polls as he was denied ticket to fight from Aurangabad.
There were reports of him joining the BJP later when he met former CM Devendra Fadnavis. Finally, it was Shiv Sena which picked him up and fielded him from Sillod in the assembly polls. Sattar joined Sena with all fanfare in presence of Thackeray.
In a minority-dominated area, Sattar not only won his seat by more than 10,000 votes, but also pushed the Congress to third position. An Independent candidate who polled close to 90,000 votes stood second.
Pro-government formation leaders cited the case of Sattar to illustrate how the political and social fault-lines on the ground have altered in the last few years. And perhaps the old paradigm of communal versus secular divide has become irrelevant.
“A former Congress leader who is a Muslim joins Sena and wins his seat comfortably in a constituency with minority votes shows the polity has changed,” said a leader familiar with developments.
The other arguments put forth the Maharashtra leaders in support of Sena alliance was the growing restlessness among party MLAs who would rather be in government than spend another five years in opposition. With BJP aggressively poaching opposition leaders ahead of the polls, BJP may attempt to do a Karnataka in Maharashtra.
These arguments in many way shaped the outcome of the Congress’ initial stand on Maharashtra standoff. Though no letter of support was immediately issued, the party decided for the first time to at least explore possibility of a Sena-NCP-Congress government in the state.