Political equations in the state have undergone major changes as a result of total rout of the Congress at the centre and its equally poor performance along with its poll ally, the Nationalist Congress Party, in the state during the recent Lok Sabha elections.
Both the major political alliances in the state – the Congress- NCP, as well as the time-tested Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party are facing a critical situation, where talks of seat-sharing are going nowhere. Going by the rhetoric on both sides, an observer would be convinced that neither of these alliances will last before the coming state legislative assembly elections. However, political processes are much more complicated and the games politicians play are veiled.
The Sharad Pawar-led NCP and the state BJP are both demanding more seats to fight in the coming assembly elections, on the basis of their performance in the Lok Sabha elections. The hawks in both the parties are threatening their alliance partners that unless they get a major share of seats during talks for the coming assembly elections, they would not hesitate to breaking off the alliance and fight on their own.
Two questions are being discussed in political circles in the state – will these alliances break and if they break who will benefit from fighting alone on their own strength? The answers to these tricky questions will unfold in near future as the election commission declares state assembly elections in the month of August.
The NCP stands at crossroads and has to take some drastic steps to ensure its very survival. Pawar is aware that it would be difficult to retain many stalwarts from the cooperative sector if the party is thrown out of power in the state. The possibility of being out of power is a first, for it has always been at the helm of affairs in the state ever since its inception in 1999.
Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar has begun putting pressure on the Congress, demanding 144 assembly seats with the threat that if the NCP does not get its due share, it would contest all the 288 seats in the state. The party had contested 114 seats, while the Congress had contested 174 seats in the last assembly elections.
He wants all the parties in the state to contest the poll on their own respective strengths, so that voters are not confused when exercising their franchise. He obviously wants the Sena and the BJP to contest separately, so that the NCP marches ahead in quadrangular contests in the state. The state NCP president, Sunil Tatkare, who is close to Ajit Pawar, is also demanding an equal number of assembly seats in view of changed political scenario in Maharashtra. The NCP game plan is simple, it wants to contest an equal number of seats and win more seats than the Congress, so that they can stake claim on the chief minister’s post.
The Congress is in a fix over the NCP demand, since it has already been pushed to fourth position during the Lok Sabha elections, but even after such a shattering defeat, it has not taken steps to reorganise the party in the state, change the leadership or undertake a cabinet reshuffle. The uncertainty over the fate of Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan continues unabated. This kind of paralysis in dealing with important issues will prove detrimental to the party’s fate in the coming elections.
The Congress is staking its claim on the Leader of Opposition post in the Lok Sabha and will need the NCP ‘s support to strengthen its claim. On its part, the Congress would not like to break off its alliance with the NCP, which has six members in Parliament and has turned up the pressure on the Congress to obtain maximum political mileage.
The BJP is also in an aggressive mood and buoyed by Modi’s success, the party wants to contest more seats in coming assembly elections. The loss of its stalwart, Gopinath Munde, is also being felt by the party, since he was a fine strategist and used to iron out differences between the BJP and the Sena. However, the state BJP leadership is aware of ground realities in the state and knows fully well that if it contests separately, it would not get the kind of support it got during the Lok Sabha elections, as the issues will be different.
The BJP, which has always played second fiddle to the Sena in the state, had contested 119 seats in the last assembly elections and now wants a minimum 50 per cent of seats for the coming assembly elections. The Sena is not at all in the mood to give the BJP so many seats, as it knows that this will reduce its chances of having Uddhav Thackeray in the CM’s position.
If the NCP contests on its own, it may benefit from the confusion prevailing in the state, but the BJP, which has a government in Delhi, will not get a similar response if it breaks away from its traditional partner, the Shiv Sena.
Prakash Bal Joshi