In nearly two years of ruling Maharashtra, the three-party coalition Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government has been subject to various pressures from the opposition that would normally have disrupted the State’s functioning. While the MVA has withstood these external pressures reasonably well, it seems to be having a rougher time with the pressures from within the coalition.
When it was cobbled together in 2019 with the sole aim of keeping the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) out of power, the MVA was like the proverbial odd couple: the Shiv Sena teaming up with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) raised many eyebrows. But the three have managed to steer the State through the worst it has seen in recent times. However, new factors are causing more friction and bringing old disagreements to the surface.
With local body elections around the corner and the Lok Sabha election just two years away, the individual ambitions of the three parties have come to the fore. The old hostility between the Congress and the breakaway NCP is clearly visible.
Nana Patole, the State Congress president, registered a complaint with the Congress high command that the NCP was “backstabbing” the MVA by helping the BJP in the State. He claimed that there was an understanding between MVA partners that the NCP was breaching.
In a release after meeting mediapersons in Nagpur, he said: “The NCP has backstabbed us by entering into an alliance with the BJP in the Bhandara and Gondia zilla parishad and panchayat samiti president elections. By doing this, the NCP has broken the written agreement between the MVA allies just to come to power in these elections. If this is not backstabbing, then what is it?”
Elaborating, he said: “[When] the three MVA allies decided to come together, a letter signed by myself, Jayant Patil of the NCP and Subhash Desai from the Shiv Sena was issued on January 30, 2022, by all the three parties. As per the MVA allies’ decision, I kept in touch with Jayant Patil and Praful Patel from the NCP and discussed the alliance for the Bhandara and Gondia elections. The NCP kept us on the edge till the end and went with the BJP at the last minute and came to power. Jayant Patil has admitted that I had contacted him frequently. If he had said earlier that he wants to go with the BJP, we would not have had any problem, but the fact that he joined hands with the BJP by keeping us in the dark was not the right thing to do.”
The election results also showed that the BJP took control of the Gondia zilla parishad. For Patole this was a double blow, not only because he is a Congressman but because it happened in his own constituency of Bhandara-Gondia. To add salt to the wounds, the NCP secured a vice president’s post in the same election.
Furthermore, Congress members have been complaining that the NCP keeps a tight hold over funds and discriminates in distributing them (the NCP’s Ajit Pawar is the Finance Minister). The Congress has also been grumbling over the NCP poaching its party members. There are fears that the coalition’s strength will be diluted if the Congress chooses to go it alone in in the local body elections. There are indications that this will happen, with Congress leaders talking of re-establishing their connections at the grass–roots level. If it does happen the BJP will certainly be grateful for it.
The NCP is also acting independently of the MVA. NCP chief Sharad Pawar has extended support to Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati, the scion of Kolhapur’s erstwhile royal family, who has decided to contest as an independent in the upcoming Rajya Sabha election. The Shiv Sena and the Congress are yet to extend their support. Sambhajiraje is a direct descendant of Chhatrapati Shivaji and enjoys electoral clout in the region as a result. In 2016 he had won the Rajya Sabha seat with BJP support.
While it is unlikely that the Shiv Sena and Congress will not extend support, the fact that the NCP took the decision unilaterally will certainly rankle the MVA allies.