By Amulya Ganguli
Of all the BJP’s opponents, the party of which the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo will be extremely watchful is the Shiv Sena. The reason is that the Sena can be uncommonly sharp in its criticism, a trait it has acquired through its years as a street fighter.
It may have mellowed slightly under the mild-mannered Uddhav Thackeray, but as the incisive directness of Sanjay Raut’s anti-BJP bluster showed during the run-up to Thackeray’s assumption of office as the chief minister, the Sena’s diatribes can sting.
Almost no other party has this not very laudable attribute. But, given the BJP’s penchant for hitting below the belt, including being economical with the truth, the opposition camp is unlikely to mind a demonstration of this characteristically hurtful feature in the Sena’s political repertoire. If anything, it will add zest to the political slugfest.
The BJP will also be aware that no other party knows its mind and inner workings better than the Sena because of their three-decade-long partnership, which has now come to an end. The BJP’s hope, therefore, will be a reconciliation with its estranged former ally in the not-too-distant future.
The expectation is based, of course, on the wide divergence of views on almost all matters between the Sena and its new friends. It is not accidental that the BJP-friendly TV channels have been constantly harping on these ideological differences, mocking the Sena for forsaking Hindutva and Savarkar, and the NCP and the Congress for sacrificing secularism in their for greed for power.
It is obvious that the channels, egged on by the BJP from behind the scenes, will not lose a moment to seize the slightest slip-up on these counts on the part of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi. The BJP itself will grasp such an opportunity with both hands.
The BJP’s criticism of the Aghadi is on the same lines as its carping characterization of the opposition mahagathbandhan before the last general election as maha-milawat or adulterated.
The mahagathbandhan had been a non-starter because some of its putative leaders like Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee were not serious about it as they were busy ploughing their own furrows to boost their status in the belief that they were prime ministerial material.
There are no such delusionary figures in the Aghadi, which, in a way, is an accidental formation based on the Sena’s anger and annoyance with the BJP’s overweening ambition. The Sena’s fury may have been enhanced by the BJP’s essays in horse-trading which made the Sena as well as the NCP and Congress to sequester their MLAs in hotels.
The Aghadi is propelled, therefore, by a direct confrontation of its members with the BJP, which wasn’t the case with the mahagathbandhan if only because it never took off.
While the mahagathbandhan did not have a well-defined leadership structure, the Aghadi has Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray. There is little doubt that its survival or failure depend on these two. Between them, Pawar holds the key. His emergence as a major figure in the non-BJP camp has been a seminal event, putting in the shade all those who had been strutting about the stage before the last general election.
Among them, Mayawati is almost forgotten now while Rahul Gandhi has reinforced his part-timer image by his inexplicable vanishing acts and occasional appearances in parliament. Rahul’s casualness has compelled Sonia Gandhi to play a more active role despite her indifferent health.
But she is not the most astute of politicians, carrying, as she does, the unwieldy baggage of her mother-in-law’s faux socialism and feudal orientation. Besides, her cautious style of functioning is not without disadvantages.
As an American diplomat wrote home, Sonia Gandhi never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity, according to Wikileaks. It was Sharad Pawar’s canniness which stopped her from missing the opportunity of backing the Shiv Sena after a longish spell of characteristic hesitancy against “adventurism”, as she is reported to have told her confidants.
But by meeting Narendra Modi soon after an unproductive session with Sonia Gandhi, Sharad Pawar prodded the Congress out of its somnolence. The eagerness of the party’s Maharashtra unit to get into the corridors of power also made Sonia Gandhi realize how the extraordinary circumstances, as she has said in her letter to Uddhav Thackeray, called for an alliance against the “unprecedented threats” posed by the BJP.
Behind the formation of the unlikely alliance between the “communal” Sena and the “secular” NCP and Congress is the realization, belatedly on the part of the Congress’s central leaders, that the political scene is similar to 1977 when, too, an unlikely group was formed comprising the Congress (Organization) of Morarji Desai, the Congress for Democracy of Jagjivan Ram, the socialist party and the Jan Sangh, the BJP’s earlier avatar. It was the “unprecedented threat” from Indira Gandhi’s Congress which made these parties come together.
But the fact that the combine lasted less than three years is a reminder to the new group how difficult is its political venture, especially with a wounded BJP waiting for its chance.