NCP Wants To Eat Cake And Have It Too

The Congress, as well as the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), is preparing to take on the BJP Government in Maharashtra without waiting to know whether or not the Shiv Sena joins the government. Both the Congress parties have realised they cannot wait for the political situation in the state to stabilise as this will only show them up for their complacency. They will be perceived as having given Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis time to consolidate his position.

Sharad Pawar has geared up into action calling a meeting of his senior colleagues in the state to finalise the strategy for next week’s winter session of the state legislature in Nagpur. There seems to be a fine line of difference within the party on the issue of supporting the BJP Government. Though no one is talking openly, as the party’s official position can only be finalised by Pawar himself, a discussion is inevitable, since the Congress is threatening to hog the entire opposition space, with its spirited attack on the BJP Government’s policies.

The party’s outside support to the government is no excuse to rest easy, Pawar has cautioned. In fact, this time should be utilised preparing for the next assembly elections, scheduled after five years. He has once again reiterated that should it come to survival of the government, his party will support it, but it is not bound to support the government on all issues. As far as bills and polices of the government are concerned, the NCP will take issue-based decisions and will not hesitate to oppose, should it feel the need to do so.

His tacit support to the BJP Government in the state has angered the Shiv Sena, which finds itself powerless despite having won more than 60 seats in the assembly elections. But for the NCP’s support, the BJP could not have taken us for granted, rues a senior Sena leader who is all for a patch-up between the two parties.

 The Congress has started organising farmer rallies to protest against the recent spate of suicides brought on by debt faced by many farming families on account of crop failure. Unfortunately, some leaders do not yet realise the importance of such political activities and stay away the party’s agitation programmes.

Both the former chief ministers, Prithviraj Chavan and Ashok Chavan, were absent from a farmers’ rally in Marathwada, where the drought-like situation is very grim. The party is listing issues to be taken up during the winter session to remind the BJP leaders what they had said when they occupied opposition benches. Now it is the Congress turn to demand that the BJP Government hold a six-week long session.

The Shiv Sena, which has the Leader of the Opposition post in the House, is likely to move over to the treasury benches during the winter session if all goes well. In that case, the Congress is all set to become the major opposition party in the state and carry on attacking the state government.

The NCP finds itself in the envious position of not being the opposition party, or sitting on the treasury benches for ideological and political reasons. Most senior leaders of the party are finding out that it is the BJP they were up against in some of the constituencies they lost in the recent elections. Party workers are confused whether to organise rallies and protest against the government or remain silent.

 During the meeting held by Pawar in Mumbai, some seniors expressed concern over the way the NCP is fast ceding opposition space as the Congress is gaining it substantially on account of the various programmes undertaken by the MPCC.  Party workers who have to fight the BJP and the Sena together at the grassroots level are worried about this continued flip-flop over support to the BJP government in the state.  NCP MP Supriya Sule has asserted that the NCP will not let the government fall, since this will lead to fresh elections, which the state cannot afford.

It may be recalled that during the first Shiv Sena-BJP Government in the state, the Congress was a very vocal opposition. Those who made attacks included leaders like Chhagan Bhujbal, R R Patil and Dilip Valse Patil, who is now with the NCP. However, with the party’s policy of outside support, it is unlikely that now, they may prove an effective counterfoil to the BJP rule.

The BJP, on its own is not going to ruffle NCP feathers, as it would not like to totally depend on the Sena, which has adopted an aggressive posture, and will want to keep the NCP in good humour to ensure its own survival. For the NCP, the trouble is it is afraid of being perceived as too close to the BJP, and this perception can cause it to lose its valuable support base in the state.

Pawar has perfected the art of running with the hare and hunting with wolf. He has kept his party afloat and had expanded his base by supporting the erstwhile Congress Government in Mumbai and New Delhi, but at the same time keeping pressure on both by adopting independent policies on various issues, instead of blindly following whatever the Congress said. He will adopt a similar approach towards the BJP Government in Maharashtra and ensure issue-based support and extract the full price for such crucial support.

 The winter session is likely to prove a very useful one for Chief Minister Fadnavis, where he can identify his political friends and foes and ensure smooth sailing.

Prakash Bal Joshi

Free Press Journal