If there’s one thing keeping Maharashtra government in the news, it has to be the cat-and-mouse game among allies of the MVA who seem to be on the fence about their power structure.
Two days after Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said he had been against the Congress and NCP — his allies — politically, state Congress chief Nana Patole stirred up a hornet’s nest by calling NCP patriarch Sharad Pawar the “remote control” of the government.
“There is no doubt that Sharad Pawar is remote control (of Maharashtra government). We (Congress) do not make statements against any big leader, but any outsider should look into own party before making statements,” Patole said.
The Congress leader’s statement came after he reportedly asked the party workers to install “our person" as guardian minister of Pune in place of NCP leader Ajit Pawar. Senior Pawar soon hit back, saying he will not react to what “small people" say but will speak if Sonia Gandhi says something.
Pawar also downplayed Patole’s repeated vow that Congress, which is a constituent of the Shiv Sena-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government along with the NCP, will contest future elections solo.
“Every party has a right to expand its base and there is nothing wrong in it. The Shiv Sena took that stand so did Congress. The NCP has also adopted the same stand (of expanding the base of the party)," he said, adding the three parties are running the government together but their organisations are separate.
So, what’s the latest in the MVA’s power tussle?
Sulking Congress a Third Wheel?
For the grand old party, the Maharashtra power-sharing arrangement was more of survival tactic, given its rapid decline across the country. Congress leaders have always seemed uncomfortable in the three-party government, often complaining that they feel like a “third wheel”. The party’s senior leadership was not in favour of allying with the Shiv Sena when the MVA was formed, but it joined the coalition to keep the BJP away from power.
Patole, for instance, has always trained his guns on the allies. Patole created a buzz when he earlier announced that his party would fight the next Assembly elections on its own and install a chief minister of the Congress. He has also said that if the party allows, he himself would be the next chief ministerial face. “We already have announced that we will go solo in all forthcoming local body elections, likely to be held from November, and thereafter the Assembly polls too. We do not want to keep our allies in the dark and ditch them ahead of the polls. We are preparing to go solo and they too are free to do so. The Congress will be the single-largest party in 2024 Assembly polls,” he said.
The rift seems to have widened since Patole alleged he was kept under surveillance by intelligence agencies at the behest of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Deputy CM Ajit Pawar
Congress, since the government was formed in November 2019, has been complaining about secondary treatment by its allies. Party leaders feel that the Sena and NCP have been on the same page when it comes to keeping the Congress out of the decision-making process.
Sharad Pawar’s national ambitions?
The tallest leader of the alliance, Pawar — a seasoned politician — is credited with bringing together the unlikely partners. There have often been accusations that not Thackeray but Pawar is the one running the show.
Pawar’s stature was also in the news recently amid reports that he was a candidate for the Presidential election. The buzz gathered steam after he met poll strategist Prashant Kishor thrice since May. The meetings also generated talks of Pawar firming up a united front of all opposition parties to take on the BJP juggernaut in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
However, Pawar dismissed all the speculation of him assuming any leadership role in 2024 by saying, “Nothing has been decided so far — be it the 2024 General Elections or state elections. The election is far away, and the political situation keeps changing. I am not going to assume any leadership in the 2024 elections.”
Pawar further said that during his meetings with Kishor, the discussion wasn’t around politics. “Prashant Kishor met me twice, but we only talked about a company of his. No discussion was held regarding the leadership for the 2024 elections or the Presidential election. Prashant Kishor told me that he has left the field of formulating poll strategies,” he added.
So what about Uddhav Thackeray?
Thackeray’s meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, days before the recent cabinet reshuffle, triggered the speculation that a BJP-Sena rapprochement was on the anvil. Reports suggested that the once-bitten BJP, which lost a 24-hour government it hastily cobbled in 2019 with a splinter group of the NCP after the Maharashtra elections, was prepared to let Thackeray continue as the CM.
That meant that its former incumbent, Devendra Fadnavis, would forsake his ambitions to return in lieu of a berth in the union cabinet. Fadnavis declared that “we may have differences with the Sena but we are not enemies". Rajya Sabha lawmaker Sanjay Raut—regarded as Thackeray’s ventriloquist as the executive editor of the “Saamana”, the Sena’s mouthpiece—fuelled the buzz, saying the BJP-Sena friendship was “intact”.
Thackeray is counted among the strong regional leaders, his intrinsic value being enhanced by governing a state like Maharashtra. He has refashioned Sena 2.0 in his own way, softening the harsh edges of its Hindutva advocacy in a more pluralistic manner that adheres to the precept of “Sarva Dharma Samabhava” without sounding irreligious or pandering to the minorities. He also opposed the sort of militant vegetarianism propagated by the BJP, knowing that first and foremost, culinary fundamentalism will anger the Maharashtrians who love their fish, fowl and meat, wrote senior journalist Radhika Ramaseshan for News18.
For the Maharashtra chief minister, keeping the bickering allies together seems to be a mammoth task. However, it is the interest of all three bound together by the survival glue to pull through.