Pawar Uddav
Intense political deliberations: On Thursday, Maharashtra Chief Minister, and Shiv Sena chief, Uddhav Thackeray spoke to NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, the chief architect of the MVA Image Credit: Supplied

“We survived!” a top leader of Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition — that is ruling Maharashtra, the second-most populous state in India — said when asked about his government’s achievements.

It is indeed a political achievement because their arch-rival Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has not left any political tool unused to break the alliance. BJP won 106 seats in the 2019 Maharashtra assembly election in alliance with Shiv Sena but couldn’t come to power as Sena pressed for the post of chief minister (CM). An ugly feud ensued that ended in bitter parting.

Rest is history. The unthinkable happened when the diehard Hindu party — Shivsena — joined hands with Congress and regional power Nationalist Congress Party, led by Sharad Pawar.

The narrative being that to keep the BJP out of power, the “secular” Congress must share power with Sena, a “radical” Hindu party.

Brainchild of Pawar

The brazenly opportunistic alliance was the brainchild of Pawar, who took help of late Ahmed Patel to get the backing of Congress High Command. Uddhav Thackeray got the CM’s position, which no Sena voter had imagined before the elections.

The BJP, like a jilted lover, went on with a no-holds barred strategy, giving a thousand cuts to its political rivals.

What was unheard of in the history of the investigative agencies happened — more than 100 Maharashtrian political leaders, their relatives and associates of powerful leaders of Sena, Congress and the NCP were either questioned, raided, arrested or charge-sheeted by the Income-tax, CBI, ED or Narcotics Control Bureau.

Anil Parab, state’s transport minister, was raided 14 times by the ED. He is close to Uddhav Thackeray and is often called the voice of Matoshree (CM’s residence). He is also someone who knows the nuts and bolts of Mumbai Municipal Corporation elections.

Sena’s senior most spokesperson and vocal Rajya Sabha MP, Sanjay Raut and his family is under the scanner while his close associate Pravin Raut is facing the ED heat in a bank fraud case.

Former state Home minister Anil Deshmukh, a protégé of Pawar, is currently in jail.

Nawab Malik, the most vocal spokesman of the MVA alliance, is in prison for a decades old corruption charge.

Shock waves in bureaucracy

Former CM Ashok Chavan is facing serious income tax queries. He may face the ED soon for the “accommodation of entries” in a cooperative run by his associates.

The sensational arrest of Avinash Bhonsle, a powerful businessman and close relative of minister Vishwajit Patangrao Kadam, has sent shock waves in the bureaucracy.

Intense political pressure emanating out of these raids and arrests have failed to break the MVA alliance even though within themselves they are having many fissures.

Some MVA leaders claim that the BJP has been unsuccessful in breaking the alliance despite putting in its best efforts because the political arthematic of the alliance works well.

Pawar has told Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) that if you join the BJP, you are set to lose in the next election because the MVA is going to stay united and fight polls.

Pawar has used political power best to strengthen political-business axis in the state’s Maratha dominated areas. In a quadrilateral contest, whoever wins 80 seats - out of 288 - can claim the post of chief minister.

The NCP (vote share of 16.71%, 54 seats) has regained a grip of the cooperative sector. It has used power to consolidate Maratha votebase (33% in state) and is working ways to lure away Congress’s Dalits and Muslim votes, too.

There is no doubt that the MVA is Pawar-driven and Uddhav’s connect with ground is at best limited despite earning the goodwill of people during Covid management.

Soft Hindutva card

Shiv Sena (16.41% vote share and 56 seats) appears confused. It is trying to play a soft Hindutva card as hardline Hindutva has been monopolised by BJP.

The Congress, the weakest link of MVA (44 seats and 15.87% vote share) is sticking to the alliance. It is completely starved of resources and faces a diminishing power-base elsewhere in country.

The BJP won 105 seats and 25.75% of votes but against the combined might of MVA (49% vote share), it can only be the biggest party, nothing more.

Few by-elections since 2019 have also proved that MVA can defeat BJP if they remain united. Maharashtrian politicians have found ways to take into stride the cases slapped by various central agencies. MVA government has started paying the BJP back in its own coin. It is hounding BJP leaders in the state.

BJP’s political war against the MVA is likely to see decisive battlegrounds in the coming days. It will also give us an idea of the gains or erosion of MVA’s power.

Is the BJP maintaining its edge over others? There is a big suspense whether the Sena has lost its Hindutva vote base. Will Congress’s Muslim voters vote for Sena, too? Is Devendra Fadnavis having a tight grip of the state unit?

The results of Rajya Sabha (RS) seats today will see if a third candidate put up by the BJP defeats Sena’s efforts to get its two candidates through.

Upset for MVA

On eve of RS elections, MVA got a setback when a Mumbai court didn't allow Malik and Deshmukh to participate in voting. MVA has lost two crucial votes even before the actual votes are cast.

Since RS voting is not secret, it is unlikely that many MLAs of big parties will go for cross voting but 29 independent and small parties’ candidates may spring a surprise.

If the BJP fails to hurt MVA in the RS elections, then the coming legislative council elections for 10 seats on June 20 will give a real idea of the unity of MVA. There are high chances of cross-voting.

The BJP has votes for four seats but it has nominated five candidates, throwing a challenge to MVA, which has fielded six candidates.

Also, around October 2022, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) election is set to be fought keenly as the BJP is working very hard to win. It understands how the control over the BMC is the “bread and butter” of Shiv Sainiks.

From today the battle of BJP versus Sena enters its final phase in Maharashtra. Expect the wily NCP to play both sides.