There was never any doubt about the Congress-NCP reaching an amicable agreement on seat-sharing for the ensuing Assembly poll in Maharashtra. When the chips are down and defeat appears to be a distinct possibility, sweet reasonableness prevails. Neither party had reason to stake claim to a bigger share of seats than the other, with both seeing a steady exodus of its senior leaders to the ruling combine. The morale of the Opposition cannot be very high following the recent desertions of former and sitting MPs and MLAs to the BJP and, in smaller numbers, to the Shiv Sena. While the Congress lacks a prominent State-level leader, Sharad Pawar has not only lost much of his pulling power even in his traditional strongholds of western Maharashtra and Marathwada, he is now old and tired and unable to undertake an arduous effort to revive the fortunes of the party.
The problem is compounded by the fact that none else in the NCP seems to be able to take effective charge of the party and take it forward. His nephew, Ajit Pawar, is not only tainted by corruption charges he was unable to ensure the win of his own son in the Lok Sabha election. Small wonder, then, there have been desertions of NCP leaders to the BJP in recent weeks. Survival instinct of politicians takes them where they espy better prospects. Right now, the BJP is on a roll. Not only does the afterglow of the spectacular Lok Sabha performance in the State is set to propel it to an easy win the coming Assembly poll, the recent decision of the Modi Government to abrogate Article 370 has further enhanced the party’s popularity.
Notably, the Congress-NCP were among the few on the Opposition benches to openly vote against the deletion of Article 370. This is bound to further alienate a large number of voters from the majority community. Probably Pawar is aware of this. Which is reflected in his recent out-of-place remarks in praise of the hospitality of the Pakistani people. Firming up the minority support in certain pockets in Maharashtra behind it may not, however, be enough to salvage the fortunes of the NCP-Congress combine. An additional factor which might further seal the fate of the Opposition alliance is the growing acceptability of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.
In 2014, when an unknown Fadnavis was made chief minister hardly anyone knew him. Since then he has emerged as a leader in his own right, and is bound to add to the Modi appeal in the assembly poll as the only viable candidate for chief ministership. The willingness of senior leaders of the NCP-Congress to join the BJP testifies to his growing appeal in a state where both the regional parties lack a saleable leader. If the truth be told, even the Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, is no match to Fadnavis. It is notable that the initial resistance within the Maharashtra BJP against Fadvanis has virtually vanished in recent months, with the CM emerging the unchallenged leader of the party in the State.
Which brings us to the slew of reports about the on-going seat-sharing process between the BJP-Sena. Despite its demand for a 50:50 formula, it is unlikely that the BJP will yield anything more than 115-120 seats while the BJP will insist on contesting 155-plus seats. The Sena is aware that going alone is not an option. And it is in no position to dictate the terms of the alliance to a party which is right now on a roll. It goes without saying that the Sena’s sterling performance in the Lok Sabha polls was owing to its alliance with the BJP.
Brinkmanship up to a point is okay, but Uddhav Thackeray takes it to such extremes that it becomes counter-productive, evoking a strong sense of distaste among the people and rejection from the BJP. Power without responsibility has its limits. He cannot seem to hold the gun to the ear of the BJP and then bargain for a better seat-sharing deal than its strength on the ground actually warrants. He should be reasonable lest his bluff is called and finds himself stranded with no place to go.