The Congress Party in Maharashtra, we thought, had a small advantage over other parties insofar as it entered the elections with no confusion whatsoever on its chief ministerial candidate. Prithivraj Chavan, it was widely assumed, would be its man, should the party, in the most unlikely event, be in a position to form the government after the October 15 poll. But it seems that the party is determined to fritter away one clear asset it has. The way Chavan is being backstabbed by his own colleagues, with Narayan Rane leaving no stone unturned to project himself as the next chief minister, it will be hard for him to survive the combined onslaught from within and without. His former deputy and senior NCP leader, Ajit Pawar, of course, has mounted a particularly vicious campaign against him, suggesting that Chavan’s integrity was suspect. Pawar has threatened to provide evidence to substantiate his charges.
Even otherwise, Chavan faces a tough battle in his constituency, where a former Congress veteran is pitted against him. He can count on internal sabotage by the likes of Rane and others, who will certainly try and trip him for fear that, if successful, he may again deprive them of the leadership of the newly-elected Congress legislative party. It is a surprise that the Congress high command – read the Gandhis — have not sought to discipline party leaders like Rane, who have openly declared themselves as frontrunners in the race for chief minister’s post. Indeed, it would be in the interest of the Congress if the high command publicly endorses Chavan’s chief ministerial candidature. At least, he enjoys the confidence of a certain section of the people, the very sections which have no faith at all in the likes of Rane. Besides, if the Congress declares its chief ministerial candidate, it would force the Sena, the BJP and even the NCP on the back foot. The truth is that though the BJP is on course to emerge as the single largest party after the polls, it lacks a prominent local face to front its campaign. In the NCP too, there seems to be reluctance to project Ajit Pawar as the party’s chief ministerial candidate. Though Uddhav is the clear choice of the Sena, the party was obliged to mute its chief ministerial claim after the split with the BJP because the latter argued that that was the real reason the 25-year-old alliance came unstuck. Meanwhile, we find it really laughable that the non-BJP parties should cavil at the number of rallies Prime Minister Narendra Modi is slated to address in Maharashtra. Whether he addresses a dozen rallies or more, it is his prerogative, isn’t it? Uddhav Thackeray argues that if the BJP is convinced that there is a Modi wave, there should be no need for him to address so many rallies. This is strange logic. Precisely because there is a Modi wave, the BJP needs to enhance that electoral capital all the more by making him connect with the voters as much as it is humanely possible to do so. After all, he is the main vote-catcher of the BJP and needs to do all in his power to win a key state like Maharashtra. The stakes are clearly high for the BJP in Maharashtra.
As a recent opinion poll has shown, the party is on course to emerge as the single largest group in the new Assembly, but would still fall short of the halfway mark. In that case, a coalition led by it might be the best course scenario. It is in that perspective that the Sena too has revised its earlier stance to part with the BJP at the central level. The party’s lone minister in the Modi Government, Anant Geete, has now decided to stay on, despite the collapse of the alliance in Maharashtra. Though the Sena’s rivals will call the decision opportunistic, we believe that both the BJP and the Sena are being pragmatic, realising that very soon, they might have to again sup together in the Maharashtra Mantralaya. Politics being the art of the possible, mutual recriminations and bitterness during the campaign among erstwhile partners, be it the Congress and the NCP, or the Sena and the BJP, ought to be kept within civilised limits. A hung Maharashtra Assembly is bound to oblige at least the Sena and the BJP to work together. So, why say and do things now which you may regret after October 15?