Recently there has been an ongoing verbal duel between the Shiv Sena (Sena) and the Congress in Maharashtra. It started with Sanjay Raut batting for Sharad Pawar to be elected as the UPA chairperson, replacing Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Raut suggested that UPA should be expanded to take on the BJP. His remarks led the ex Maharashtra CM and current cabinet minister Ashok Chavan to remark that the alliance with Sena is limited to Maharashtra and there was no plan to induct Sena in the UPA. This is a direct message to the Sena to mind it’s own business and not interfere in matters related to the UPA nationally.
Similarly ex-Congress minister Arif Naseem Khan and Ashok Chavan asked Sena to not forget it’s place and not advice a national party like the Congress on whom to appoint as the UPA chairperson. Seems the Congress has had enough of the loose talk by Sanjay Raut and also using the opportunity to have a go indirectly at Sharad Pawar, who is dreaming of the PM post yet again.
The Congress has been treated as a second class ally in the first year of the MVA government in the state. This is essentially a Sena-NCP government where the Sena got the Chief minister’s post and the NCP controls most of the state government finances while the Congress got the leftovers. Barring the meaty revenue ministry to state Congress chief Balasaheb Thorat, the Congress has got relatively unimportant ministries. Congress minister Vijay Wadettiwar reported got one (among his several) ministry which had only four employees. The state leadership had to work overtime to mollify him and get him to accept his portfolio.
However, there is a deeper reason behind this war of wits between the two parties. The Congress is repeatedly talking of fighting the BMC election alone, instead of as part of the MVA alliance. The new Congress city chief Bhai Jagtap has mentioned that his personal opinion is to fight alone. The timing is significant as the BMC election will be held in Feb 2022 along with nine other big municipal corporations like Pune, Nagpur, Nashik, Thane etc. The Congress has two main reasons to be apprehensive about fighting in an alliance with the Sena and the NCP.
- Losing space in the city: Congress graph has been falling from 71 wards in 2007 to 51 wards in 2012 and finally 31 wards in 2017. In 2017, the Sena and the BJP emerged as the two main contenders while the Congress was relegated to a distant third position. If the Congress fights in alliance with the MVA, it is likely to get 70-80 wards out of 227, with the Sena likely to fight 120-130 wards and NCP 25-30 wards. In such a scenario the Congress is likely to win just 25-30 wards. If the Congress was to fight 227 seats, it might have a better chance of bettering the tally of 31 wards. The Congress fears vacating it’s space in the city.
- Losing core muslim vote bank: The Congress is worried that the AIMIM which raised the “Congress alliance with Sena” bogey in Bihar, will use more of the same in Mumbai. The Congress vote bank is primarily the 21% muslims in Mumbai along with the neo Buddhist and Christian communities. The ascendent AIMIM can seriously dent the Congress by opening the wounds of the post 1992 Babri demolition riots during campaigning. The Sena’s role during those riots is well known. Such a direct association with the Sena could seriously hurt the Congress in the city.
On the other hand the Sena fears that it will need the Congress to cross the majority mark in the BMC, in case the BJP fails to get an outright victory. This would mean that the Congress would extract it’s pound of flesh elsewhere in the BMC and the state government. The BMC is like the life breath of the Sena, as it has sustained the party over the last three decades. The MMR and Konkan region accounts for more than half of the Sena’s 56 MLAs. BMC is the biggest milch cow which has financed this growth for the Sena. Being at the mercy of the Congress will not be a happy prospect for the Sena.
The Congress hopes to regain the kingmaker’s role in the BMC, as it would also give it more leverage in the state government. The Sena has recognized the threat of an assertive Congress and in it’s own aggressive style has tried to undermine the Congress by battling for Sharad Pawar. Sena has batted for Pawar to replace Sonia Gandhi as the UPA president. This move has angered the Congress, which can bear any insult except any slur on the Gandhi family. This “tu-tu mein-mein” between the Sena and the Congress is not going to end in a hurry and we will see them spar till the mega municipal corporation election season in Feb 2022.