It is the most unlikely alliance in Indian political history — the Congress party and Shiv Sena plus Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) helming the government in second most important state in India — Maharashtra (Mumbai accounts for the country's maximum corporate tax and is the headquarters of Bollywood).
It could only have been birthed by the shrewdest political brain in politics — Sharad Pawar — and is now proving to be a durable all weather alliance.
Proof of the pudding? Gulf News can exclusively reveal that Uddhav Thackeray, Maharashtra Chief Minister (CM), currently recuperating from a surgery, dialled Sonia Gandhi, interim Congress president, today and had a long conversation.
The chat was just not confined to social niceties but, included a lot of politics. This is possibly the first political reach out made by Thackeray post his surgery.
As Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal CM, recently attacked and challenged the Congress in Mumbai, standing next to Pawar, the Sena immediately scrambled and provided a strong cover to the Congress.
In an unambiguous editorial in the Sena’s mouthpiece, Saamana, the Sena ruled out any political formation minus the Congress. The article went on to compare such a formation akin to helping the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
This was not all. Sanjay Raut, exuberant Sena Member of Parliament (MP), yesterday serenaded Rahul Gandhi with an old Hindi film number, “aap aye bahaar ayi” (You lit up the room) — when Gandhi came calling on the suspended MPs protesting at the Mahatma Gandhi statue in Parliament.
Earlier Raut, considered Thackeray’s main lieutenant in Delhi had a long one to one meeting with Rahul Gandhi on Dec. 7 post Banerjee's personal attack on Gandhi and came out singing the Gandhi siblings' praises.
What makes Congress-Sena alliance click?
So what has made this unlikely alliance click and take wings? From the beginning Uddhav Thackeray, who is a very cultured and refined gentleman, contrary to the image of his Sena, has been extremely respectful to the Gandhi family. When the government first came in to being, Aditya Thackeray, now a minister, came calling with a personal invite to Sonia Gandhi as his father’s emissary.
Ever since the Thackerays — a political dynasty like the Gandhis — has gone out of his way to honour the family, tweeting on the late Rajiv Gandhi’s (former Prime Minister of India) birthday in memory of him.
The Gandhi family, specially Rahul, who was opposed to the alliance have warmed up slowly to the point of reposing political trust on the Sena. As reported by Gulf News on Tuesday, Sonia Gandhi has come out of her semi-retirement to take on the BJP and stop the talent bleed in the Congress party.
Yesterday Gandhi held a high powered meeting of the opposition leaders which included Pawar and virtually the entire league of top opposition leaders including T R Baalu of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Farooq Abdullah of the National Conference (NC) and Sena’s Raut.
Pointedly Gandhi did not extend an invite to Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress. This set the buzz of a huge political snub to Banerjee after she had dissed the UPA saying, “Where is UPA”?
Pawar also took the opportunity to explain to Gandhi that he had been unnecessarily roped in by Banerjee and was totally committed to an opposition front which could even be UPA 2.0. Politics keeps underlining irony and Banerjee’s attack on the UPA could well revive the defunct front.
Sonia to lead the Opposition?
Authoritative sources told Gulf News that Thackeray and Raut had both asked the Gandhi family to take the lead and revive India’s opposition front. Thackeray was categoric and told Gandhi that no opposition front would be possible in the country without the Congress.
Interestingly, the two political dynasties have come closer together because both the Gandhi family and the Thackerays have been targeted in a very vicious personal way by the BJP.
India’s ruling party did not take Thackeray seriously initially and considered him as a junior partner in the BJP-Sena alliance till Thackeray walked out.
After an egg on the face following 24-hour swearing in of Devendra Fadnavis, the BJP launched scathing personal attacks on the Thackeray family. Uddhav is known to be extremely protective about his family and the unwarranted personal attacks on his son — Aditya disturbed him.
The BJP has left no stone unturned in its attack on the Gandhis — a political family that has occupied a prominent place in the politics of India.
Pawar was also smarting under the Enforcement Directorate (ED) summons issued to him which he turned around politically by going to the ED office in Mumbai and asking to be questioned.
With the upcoming Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections, the family bonhomie might translate in to an alliance on the ground and the Sena is likely to join a UPA redux. Banerjee might rue how she brought the Gandhis and Thackerays together.