The smaller partners of the saffron alliance, the Mahayuti, led by the Shiv Sena-BJP played a significant role during the Lok Sabha elections, giving the alliance a landslide victory over the Congress-NCP alliance.
Now that the state assembly elections are coming closer, these small players are demanding their pound of flesh in the form of more seats. It’s a fact that all the four parties which have been supporting the Sena-BJP alliance in the state as partners of the Mahayuti have their vote banks and areas of influence. If these smaller players are neglected, the saffron alliance will have to pay a heavy price.
However, the Shiv Sena-BJP are more worried about seat-sharing among themselves. The dharma of coalition politics is much more complicated and difficult to follow, as is evident in the case of the Mahayuti.
The Shiv Sena- BJP leaders are over-obsessed with the issue of the next chief minister, rather than ensuring that the Mahayuti remains intact so as to defeat the ruling alliance in the state. RPI leader Ramdas Athawale is worried about the ongoing fight within the Shiv Sena and the BJP over CM issue and the BJP’s demand for more seats. The smaller partners wonder what will happen if the Sena-BJP decide to go it alone, which is a very remote possibility.
It was Uddhav Thackeray who first talked about the Shiv Shakti-Bhim Shakti alliance, but it took very long for this socio-political project to take concrete shape. He is aware of RPI power to draw votes and would like to ensure the continued support of Ramdas Athawale. However when Sena could not offer a seat in the Rajya Sabha, Athawale was upset. The BJP pacified him by offering a seat from their quota. Now; RPI feels that the Sena-BJP must give them adequate seats to ensure political cooperation for the assembly elections meaningful.
RSP leader Mahadev Jankar had contested from Baramati against MP Supriya Sule. His party has demanded 59 of the 288 state legislative assembly seats. If one calculates the number of seats demanded by these parties, it would take the total to more than 100.
Neither the Sena nor the BJP will accept such seat-sharing, but they will have to give a sizeable number of seats to the smaller parties if they are serious about continuing the fragile alliance. More than the numbers, it is political support
and the creation of an atmosphere for the coming elections.
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena leader Raj Thackeray is keeping his cards close to his chest. Even though he had supported Narendra Modi, his party suffered heavily in the recent Lok Sabha elections. The road ahead is difficult for him since he believes that if he contests alone, he has got a better chance. He still believes that the MNS can attract supporters, as well as some Shiv Sena leaders if he plays his cards well. His recent speeches show a resolve to create his own new support base by raking up issues in his style.
The Sena is still worried about the MNS, not knowing if the Raj party will eat into its votes in a big way in the Mumbai-Thane-Pune belt or whether it should be ignored.
The creation of too many political parties centred on a leader, a region, language or a caste is too divisive and should be avoided. Actually, too many smaller regional parties in the political fray have given the voter multiple options, but have also created confusion at the same time. This also leads to too many pulls and pressures being put on the local administration, making it ineffective.
The Left parties in the state have taken a back seat during the last three four decades, as the Sena-BJP combine occupied the major opposition space. The Janata Dal and the Peasants and Workers Party (PWP), two communist parties, have lost their power in the last two decades.
The Bharatiya Republican Party leader Prakash Ambedkar has maintained his sphere of influence in Akola, Yavatmal and Buldhana districts and tried to develop another alliance with the help of Left parties.
With RPI leader Ramdas Athawale leaving the Congress-NCP alliance, Ambedkar tried to explore the possibility of cooperating with the UPA, but did not get a concrete response before the last Lok Sabha elections. The Congress is now more open after its stunning defeat and is exploring possibilities of attracting new allies along with the NCP in the state. Ambedkar is in no hurry and would consider all aspects before thinking of joining any alliance.
The presence of the smaller parties in the fray is seen as an advantage by the Congress, as well as the NCP, since these are adept at changing sides at the eleventh hour. The ruling alliance feels it could accommodate these smaller parties with a few seats to fight the anti-incumbency factor in a more effective way.
However, these smaller parties are far from being in a hurry to change sides at this crucial juncture. They have tested the mood in Maharashtra during the Lok Sabha elections and know that anti-
Congress sentiments abound. What these smaller parties are worried about is the way these two
major alliances treat them as pawns in their own big fight.
They are demanding recognition for their work and areas of influence so that they can continue to survive in the days of political upheaval. They act on impulse and tact arising from their sense of insecurity. The Shiv Sena-BJP will have to handle them with care if they want the Mahayuti to continue making inroads in the state.
Prakash Bal Joshi