Joining hands with the Shiv Sena to form the government in Maharashtra may prove to be a risky deal in the long run for the Congress. The Grand Old Party that once had a pathogenic hatred for the Sena and accused its founder and patriarch Bal Thackeray of playing the 'religion card' in politics, will be making a major ideological compromise at the national level if it finally extends support.
It may be recalled that it was the Congress that was behind the two major setbacks to the Sena patriarch — once when Thackeray was barred from casting his vote for six years and later, he even had to face arrest.
Way back in the late 1980s, Congress candidate Prabhakar Kunte who had lost an Assembly election to Ramesh Prabhoo, an Independent candidate backed by the Shiv Sena, filed a complaint against Thackeray, accusing him of communal politics. Subsequently, Thackeray was found guilty and the Election Commission banned him from voting for six years. A few years later, in July 2000, at the hands of the Congress-NCP's Democratic Front government in the state, Thackeray was prosecuted under Section 153 A of the IPC for inciting communal passions. That was the first time a state government in Maharashtra had found the courage to take on the lion in his den. Thackeray was arrested, but the court let him off.
But, through a quirky turn of events in Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena and Congress today find themselves standing on the same side of the barbed wire fence that has separated them ideologically and politically for all these years.
Whether the Congress joins the Shiv Sena as an ally or gives outside support to keep the BJP out of power, it will do more harm to itself rather than to the saffron party.
The Congress has been relentlessly fighting the BJP both at the national level and in states on ideological grounds. Besides the BJP, it has strongly condemned the Sena as well by dubbing the latter a 'communal party'. In every election, the Congress has blamed the BJP and Shiv Sena for fanning communalism by playing the Hindutva card. One may recall that after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Thackeray had claimed that it was Shiv Sena volunteers who had brought down the structure.
Once the Congress supports the Sena in government formation, its Left of Centre political ideology stands compromised at the national level. This act will impart the message to the electorate that in order to gain power, the Congress is willing to stoop low enough to compromise its core ideology. After the surgical strike, Balakot air strike, abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and the most recent Ayodhya verdict, the beleaguered Congress has witnessed a section of its senior leaders supporting the decisions of the Narendra Modi government.
Under such circumstances, compromising its core ideology would prove to be highly damaging for the Congress.
Ideological compromise will lead to political damage for the Congress. In case it supports the Sena, the Grand Old Party will send the wrong message to voters in the forthcoming Assembly elections in Delhi, Jharkhand and Bihar. The Congress can't risk jeopardising its brand equity, as it will be fighting against the BJP and its allies in these states. The saffron party won't lose anything by withdrawing itself from forming government in Maharashtra, as it has established itself as a winning machine both in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections.
The Sharad Pawar-led NCP, by bagging 54 seats in the 288-member Assembly, has proved that it continues to be a force to reckon with in Maharashtra. The Congress, emerging fourth in terms of seats won (44), has a lot to lose.
Desperate for power
The Congress that once enjoyed pan-India power with governments at the Centre as well as in a majority of states, has gradually seen its power eroding at the hands of the BJP and the regional parties. Having been reduced to governing smaller states, it was only in late 2018 that it returned to power in three strategic states, governed by the BJP for a long time: Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.
Prior to that, it had proved its desperation to get back to the corridors of power by striking an alliance with the Janata Dal (S) in Karnataka. However, the alliance proved to be a roller coaster ride for the Congress. It remains to be seen if its possible alliance with the Shiv Sena — by far the biggest ideological compromise that the Congress may undertake — will follow the Karnataka path, if it ever materialises.
The dilemma that the Congress seems to be grappling with as far as the Shiv Sena is concerned, was reflected in its Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting in Delhi on Monday, where the party's senior leaders failed to take any final decision. The CWC is to meet again on Tuesday morning to figure out a working partnership, if possible, with the Shiv Sena, along with the NCP.
A bigger fear stalking the Congress leadership is the possibility of its elected legislators in Maharashtra slipping away if a concrete decision isn't taken soon; the elected Congress MLAs seem to be keen on becoming part of the government in Maharashtra.
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Updated Date: Nov 12, 2019 18:18:57 IST