With the countdown for the 2024 Lok Sabha and Maharashtra Assembly elections started, the national Opposition parties are busy calculating various political alliances, permutations, combinations and strategies to boost their electoral arithmetic vis-a-vis the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Much to the chagrin of the Opposition parties, in the past two Lok Sabha (2014-2019) elections — despite their best efforts — the EVM machines kept popping out saffron bunnies sporting BJP caps, with the magic attributed to baton-masters, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Home Minister Amit Shah.
Three years ago, an unforeseen and probably belated alliance of Congress-Nationalist Congress Party-Shiv Sena (UBT) named ‘MVA’, stonewalled the BJP’s attempts to return to power for a second consecutive term after the October 2019 Assembly elections.
Barely recovering from the ‘hijack’, but fretting in the Opposition, the BJP managed to topple MVA Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray in June 2022 and grabbed power with the help of the Balasahebanchi Shiv Sena (BSS), propping up Eknath Shinde as the new Chief Minister.
Though heavily ‘leaking’ and ‘bleeding’, Sena (UBT) President Thackeray did not desert the MVA allies — which in turn reciprocated by keeping him within the fold, with full dignity.
As the national political landscape looms with the likelihood of at least three Opposition combines, it is abundantly clear that NCP-Sena (UBT) will throw its lot in any coalition comprising the Congress — though they may be at political loggerheads in different states with powerful local satraps and influential regional parties.
In December 2021, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and in February 2022, Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao met with Maharashtra leaders to discuss their national political designs.
They met NCP supremo Sharad Pawar and Sena (UBT) tiger Thackeray, both the Maharashtra bigwigs accorded Banerjee and Rao a warm welcome, but politely cold-shouldered suggestions hinting at a ‘non-Congress front’ as “unfeasible”.
Pawar and senior NCP leaders such as Praful Patel, daughter Supriya Sule, nephew Ajit Pawar, state president Jayant Patil plus Sena (UBT)’s Thackeray, Sanjay Raut, Arvind Sawant and Aditya Thackeray, among others, on various occasions, have stressed the need for Opposition unity including the Congress to pose an all-out challenge to the BJP in 2024.
Pawar and Raut have aired their views on how only the Congress commands a pan-India presence, acceptance among all sections, experience and a nationally recognised leadership, that would be an asset in effectively grappling the BJP challenge.
While Pawar Sr. continues his backroom manoeuvres in New Delhi and through his legion of ‘friends’ across the political spectrum towards this aim, the recently-concluded Bharat Jodo Yatra (BJY) led by MP Rahul Gandhi proved to be the proverbial ‘booster dose’ for the Congress and partly the Opposition’s sagging morales.
Willy-nilly stamping their support to Congress, NCP’s Sule, Patil, Dr. Jitendra Awhad and other bigwigs joined Gandhi’s BJY, followed by Sena (UBT)’s Aditya Thackeray, Ambadas Danve, Sanjay Raut and Urmila Matondkar joined him at various points in Maharashtra and in Jammu & Kashmir.
On earlier occasions, the trio — uncharitably labelled as ‘autorickshaw’ by the BJP — stuck together when in a morning shock for MVA, Devendra Fadnavis was sworn-in as Chief Minister and Ajit Pawar (NCP) as the Deputy Chief Minister on November 23, 2019.
The development came even as an ecstatic Thackeray was finalising his wardrobe for his own swearing-in as the MVA Chief Minister, decided just a couple of days before.
However, the NCP and Congress virtually moved heaven-and-earth and ensured that the two-man government crashed in just 80 hours and a victorious Thackeray took the oath as Chief Minister on November 28, 2019.
Weeks before the MVA government collapsed in June 2022, Pawar had sounded categorical warnings to Thackeray of the impending disaster awaiting his party, as revealed recently by Ajit Pawar.
Ostensibly, the Sena leaders misjudged the gravity of the situation as “the most trusted people” were involved — who ultimately betrayed them through the abrupt coup d’etat.
As the central probe agencies went after several NCP and Sena (UBT) leaders, even reaching upto the relatives of the Pawars and Thackerays, the MVA partnership did not crumble.
The MVA fought the recent MLC biennial polls to emerge victories in three seats, the BJP and a rebel Congressman got one each.
The three parties are now contesting the upcoming bypolls to two Assembly seats in Pune, which will be a further test of their political resilience.
After the MLCs polls, the MVA’s message, as stated by the Congress President Nana Patole, Ajit Pawar and Raut, is clear — “united we stand, divided we crash”.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at: email@example.com)