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Saturday 4 July 2020

Shiv Sena not new to coalition with Congress

Seeing the Shiv Sena ally with the Congress will surprise only those who haven't seen the 1970s or who cannot recall that period

It is now almost final that Shiv Sena will form the government with the support of NCP in Maharashtra and Congress will support it from outside although Sonia Gandhi is not too convinced this would be a good idea. Shiv Sena, once known for staunch Hindutva, leaving the BJP and going with the NCP and Congress may but surprise only those who haven’t seen or cannot recall the 1970s.

Nearer in the past, in 2012, Shiv Sena had supported presidential candidate Pranab Mukherjee proposed by the Congress. Before that, in 2007, it had supported Congress’s presidential candidate Pratibha Patil.

Shiv Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray, who had the image of a staunch Hindu, may have targeted then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in his cartoons, but the Emergency imposed in 1975 enjoyed the support of Shiv Sena.

Balasaheb had supported the Congress in the 1977 election, too. However, the people of Maharashtra did not like this alliance, as was evident when the Shiv Sena suffered badly in the 1978 Assembly election and the BMC poll.

In fact, it is the alliance with the BJP that is relatively new for the party founded by Bal Thackeray. In 1989, the two parties came together for the first time. BJP leader the late Pramod Mahajan played an instrumental role in forging this alliance. The alliance continued in the 1989 Lok Sabha election and the 1990 Assembly election.

The question of sharing did not trouble a BJP-Shiv Sena alliance for the first time either. In the 1991 BMC election, there was a tussle over seat-sharing between the two parties after which both contested separately.

The Shiv Sena and BJP contested separately in the 1995 Assembly election but, after the results came out, they formed a government together. In that election, Congress got the maximum number of seats, while Shiv Sena was at No. 2 and BJP at No. 3.

Thereafter, the two parties fought the Assembly election of 2014 separately. However, after that election, both came together again and formed a coalition government in the State.

Desperate times for Shiv Sena

In 2018, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray once again spoke of besieging the BJP on various issues and not forging alliances in the future. However, both stayed together in the 2019 Lok Sabha election and then in the Assembly election, both of them contested, sharing an equal number of seats.

The latest Assembly elections saw Shiv Sena fielding Aaditya Thackeray from Worli in Mumbai. This was the first time someone from the first family of the party was contesting in an election. It was the party’s gambit to charm the voters who were getting increasingly disenchanted and Shiv Sena’s footprint in Maharashtra was constantly shrinking. Sources say, even though the party had a poor strike rate, it thought of winning the hearts of the electorate by promoting Thackeray’s profile with chief ministership. That desperation cost the alliance, as the much larger BJP refused to get rid of Devendra Fadnavis who had performed reasonably well in his first term as the chief executive of the State.

The deadlock between the two parties for the post of chief minister continued for more than 15 days. During this time, the BJP remained adamant about having its chief minister for the next five years. The Shiv Sena kept saying that the BJP had cheated on the alleged promise of 50-50 power-sharing whereas the BJP responded every time, saying the agreement was for seat-sharing in the electoral contest alone. The Maharashtra Assembly results on 24 October gave the BJP 105 seats, Shiv Sena 56, NCP 54 and Congress 44 seats.

But Congress playing hard-to-get

While the Shiv Sena is trying to form a government with the Congress and NCP, Asaduddin Owaisi’s party that has two MLAs in Maharashtra has said that it will not support a Shiv Sena-Congress government. Owaisi tweeted that his party would not support this government. The AIMIM will send a letter to the governor soon.

In the meantime, Congress first said it needed to talk to the NCP to arrive at a decision. INC president Sonia Gandhi then had a talk with NCP head Sharad Pawar. Mallikarjun Kharge of the Congress said the discussions will continue on 12 November.

Congress’s Manikrao Thakre said neither his party’s nor the NCP’s letter has reached the governor. Two Congress politicians were supposed to take the matter forward with Pawar in a meeting that would be attended by other leaders from the State.

In the meantime, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray spoke to Sonia Gandhi over the phone even as the Congress meeting was going on in Delhi while the NCP meeting in Mumbai was over.

Sonia Gandhi then spoke to some party MLAs staying in Jaipur on the issue of government formation.

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