Amidst fast-moving developments in Maharashtra, the state appeared precariously poised between President’s Rule and a government by non-BJP parties.
With the Congress and the NCP seeking more time to decide on their support to the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Governor expressing his inability to grant the request for 48 more hours for the Sena to complete the formalities, Presidents Rule stared Maharashtra in the face on Monday evening.
On a day of fast developments, Sharad Pawar first called on Uddhav Thackeray at Taj Lands End in Mumbai. He was followed by Prithviraj Chavan and Ashok Chavan of the Congress. Later in the afternoon Uddhav Thackeray was reported to have spoken to Congress interim President Sonia Gandhi.
There was a twist in the tale in the evening when Aditya Thackeray called on the Governor and expressed Shiv Sena’s willingness to form the government. But while he sought two days’ time to complete the formalities, the Governor expressed his inability to grant the request.
When it seemed the state was moving towards President’s Rule, there was a further twist when the Raj Bhavan invited Sharad Pawar to indicate NCP’s ability to form the Government.
NCP and the Congress, in a pre-poll alliance, had won 98 seats in the Assembly between themselves. With 145 required for the majority mark, the alliance will need the support of the Shiv Sena, which has 56 MLAs in the House.
But at the time of writing these lines, it was not clear if the Raj Bhavan was merely going through the motions before the Centre imposed President’s Rule or whether it was a serious move to allow the pre-poll alliance to test its support.
Things seem to be coming full circle for both the Congress and the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. The two are not strange bedfellows to each other. In fact, Bal Thackeray owed his very support and political existence to the Congress leaders of Maharashtra in the 1960s and 1970s.
He also had cordial relations with the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, always supporting her policies – the news of her assassination, he had said, felt like a thousand ants biting into his brain.
After Mrs Gandhi's passing Thackeray felt obliged to support the Congress no longer and consciously moved away towards Hindutva and into the arms of the BJP. Thackeray had indeed supported the Emergency.
Only the roles are now reversed and the Congress is now being pushed into playing a supporting role to the Shiv Sena. But with Sharad Pawar consciously orchestrating the chain of events that could lead to the formation of the Maha Shiv Aghadi government in Maharashtra, it is clear that once again there could be a tectonic shift in politics not just in Maharashtra but across the country.
This now means the Shiv Sena will have to shift away from overt Hindutva and focus more on core bread and butter issues of the people, particularly farmers and industrial workers. That is what the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party have been emphasising on ever since it became apparent that they could form a government together.
That is the only way they could get the Congress on board which is jittery about grassroots implications of compromising with its secular ideology. However, with all three parties on the crosshair by the BJP which brooks no opposition, the basic instinct for survival seems to be overriding all other concerns in forging an alliance of unlikely partners.
Congress MLAs were reported to be divided on offering outside support to the government with a section favouring that Congress should join the Government. Many of the Congress MLAs feel the concept of outside support is an unworkable arrangement with the party gaining nothing for that support and unable to even be a responsible oppisition.
There has been criticism by the BJP and other critics about the betrayal of the mandate by the Shiv Sena which had contested the election as part of a saffron alliance and was now forming a government with ideologically opposed forces.
At the time of writing the BJP was packing a few more tricks to deny a government to its opposition with the Governor refusing to extend the deadline for the Shiv Sena to stake its claim to the government.
Congress leaders have said Sonia Gandhi and Sharad Pawar will together decide on the modalities of the support to the Shiv Sena.