WITH elections less than a year away, the flutter caused by Gopinath Munde has raised many questions about political alliances in Maharashtra, particularly the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) partnership, now nearly two decades old.
Though the saffron coalition has seen some rocky patches, it has survived largely for two reasons. First, neither the Sena nor the BJP would be able to ally with either the Congress or the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) without the latter two alienating a large section of their voters. Secondly, the Sena and the BJP need each other. The Sena still sees the BJP as a ticket to national politics, while the BJP recognises the Senas strength in Maharashtra, especially in Mumbai.
Politics in Maharashtra has been in a state of flux and the number of political dissidents has been increasing. The Congress, the NCP, the BJP and the Sena have all suffered losses and made gains. But perhaps the greatest threat to them all is the latest entrant in Maharashtra politics the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). In the past, the BSP failed to gain a foothold in the State because it was considered an outsider by political aspirants and voters. But though the BSP fared poorly in the State in the last general elections, it is expected to do better in the next elections, partly because of the greater numbers of migrants from the north of the country in Maharashtra, especially in Mumbai.
The BSP, on its part, projects itself in the State not exclusively as a party for Dalits but for the underprivileged. North Indian workers who have been abused and threatened by the Shiv Sena, and more recently by Raj Thackerays Navnirman Sena, fit into this category. Addressing a rally in Mumbai, BSP supremo Mayawati reached out to this growing group of voters and exhorted them to register themselves as voters in Mumbai.
The setting is perfect for legislators who either feel sidelined or are unable to find a place in Maharashtra politics because it continues to be dominated by the upper castes. Leaders from Other Backward Classes, such as Munde, Narayan Rane and Chhagan Bhujbal, have enough political influence to be attractive to the BSP. Likewise, its ruling party status in Uttar Pradesh has increased its appeal for potential rebels.
Longtime Congressman Sudhir Sawant, who held the fort for his party in the Konkan, recently quit it to become the BSPs State convener. Though caste was in favour of Sawant, a Maratha, he had been sidelined for a long time in the Congress. Likewise, Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil, has been a secondary character in State politics for longer than he would like to remember.
Two other potential rebels are Chhagan Bhujbal and Narayan Rane. Bhujbal dropped out of sight after his name came up in the investigations into the stamp paper scam of Abdul Karim Telgi. Though he is still a force to be reckoned with, considering his influence in his home district of Nasik, he has been politically suppressed by the NCP, which is almost completely a Maratha party.
Ranes fight is of another sort. With his background in the Sena, which has never really been casteist, Rane never had his aspirations hampered by caste. His battle with Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh has been an open secret and he has been pushing for more than his present position as Revenue Minister. With the Centre apparently content with Deshmukh for the time being, there is a possibility that Rane might consider other options.
Finally, there is the fear that Munde, Maharashtras tallest OBC leader, might join the BSP. For the BJP, this would be the biggest blow.Lyla Bavadam