Uddhav Thackeray— Heads, he loses, tails, he loses
Either the Shiv Sena president backtracks and allies with the BJP again to win the Mayor’s post in the BMC. Or else, he seeks the support of the Congress. The fate of Maharashtra rests on his choice
A week into the results of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections, the fate of Maharashtra rests in the hands of Uddhav Thackeray—and his ego.
The state is faced with a piquant situation. Either the Shiv Sena president backtracks on his words and eats crow if he wants to ally with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) again to gain a Mayor for his party in the BMC. Or else he has to seek the support of the Congress, which is the only party which can give either the BJP or the Shiv Sena its numbers for a mayoral victory.
It will be suicidal for both the BJP and the Congress to come together on a single platform, but the Congress might be willing to consider support to the Shiv Sena—however, it must have its pound of flesh. A gleeful Congress is insisting that Uddhav Thackeray must pull support from the BJP-led government in the state assembly in return for its help in the BMC. If the government falls, Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar has made it amply clear his party will not prop up the government this time round.
So, could there be a mid-term poll in Maharashtra? Is Uddhav up to the task—and his words?
The Shiv Sena and the BJP won 84 and 82 seats respectively in the BMC. The Sena has now added four independents to its fold, taking its tally to 88. But that is still way short of the 114 needed for a simple majority. The Congress, with 31 seats, cannot afford to side with either party and jeopardise its secular credentials and its future in other states for a mere mayoral election in Mumbai, particularly when the mayor will not even belong to their party. However, if through its machinations it manages to have the BJP-led government in the state fall—it is proposing a no-confidence motion during the budget session of the assembly beginning Monday—there will be an instant change in the political alignments—and atmosphere—not just in the state, but also the rest of the country.
It will be suicidal for both the BJP and the Congress to come together on a single platform, but the Congress might be willing to consider support to the Shiv Sena—however, it must have its pound of flesh. A gleeful Congress is insisting that Uddhav Thackeray must pull support from the BJP in the assembly in return for its help in the BMC. If the government falls, Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar has made it amply clear his party will not prop up the government this time round.
The choice before Uddhav is not an easy one. If he backtracks, he stands to lose with the Marathi manoos—there was extreme polarisation between Marathi and Gujarati voters in Mumbai this time around and the Marathi manoos may not forgive him for a long time for taking them for a ride. The Shiv Sena has already said the Congress is a much better party to ally with, even if the BJP today is the new Congress and treading the same path as the Congress did a few years ago, so they say.
Amid a growing controversy about the alleged tampering of Electronic Voting Machines at the municipal polls across the state, the BJP is losing much traction, particularly since more than half its corporators were poached from either the Congress or the NCP and even a fair number of anti-socials who made sure the party romped home to victory. However, the scenario is unlikely to be repeated during an assembly election, where margins needed are higher and constituencies as well as issues are wide and far reaching. Both the Congress and the NCP are sensing an opportunity to increase their numbers. Pawar, particularly, is chafing at the bit, unable to dominate the current dispensation as he has done with most Maharashtra governments over the past 30-40 years.
The results of the 2014 assembly and 2017 corporation polls have brought home the fact to both alliances that while the Sena and the BJP increase their numbers when they fight separately and against each other, the Congress and the NCP fare well in the reverse scenario. The secular allies are slowly drawing together again, not the least in the various zilla parishads and panchayat samitis, where together they can make up the numbers against the saffron parties.
Amid all these factors and quick silver changes in the situations every day, all eyes are now on Uddhav—he is his own man, unlike leaders in the BJP or the Congress who must consult their high commands before taking any crucial step. The BJP high command would want to see a sealing of the relationship for the moment, but Congress leaders, according to reliable sources in Mumbai, would want to topple the BJP government to support the Sena in the BMC.
That is an arrangement that Uddhav might not be uncomfortable with, but there is a loose cannon in the field—Pawar. Not many take him at his word and it is just possible he might let down both the Congress (again) and the Shiv Sena and decide to forge better ties with the BJP for the next two years. That will leave Uddhav out on a limb and Sena ministers in government are cautioning their leader against such a step.
So, will Uddhav be able to take this leap of faith? Will he land safely on the other side? If not, heads he loses and tails he loses again. No one would want to be in his shoes at the moment.