Maharashtra's INDIA bloc partners feeling down but not defeated - yet

Mumbai, Dec 9 (IANS): The Maharashtra Opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) – a constituent of the national INDIA alliance – witnessed many long faces after the jaw-dropping results of the five state assembly elections declared last week.

The Bharatiya Janata Party retained Madhya Pradesh and picked up Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the Congress won Telangana while the the Zoram Peoples Movement made a sweep in Mizoram.

While Telangana cheered up the Congress, the upsets in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh proved to be a dampener in the celebrations, as the MVA partners Nationalist Congress Party (SP) and Shiv Sena (UBT) took stock of the outcome.

The four states’ verdict elicited expected reactions from the MVA allies, including Shiv Sena (UBT) president and ex-chief minister Uddhav Thackeray – suspicions about the electronic voting machines (EVMs).

Thackeray immediately demanded that if the BJP has the courage, “then it should hold the BMC elections with ballot paper instead of EVMs to help dispel all doubts”, later echoed by party MP Sanjay Raut.

The Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi president Prakash Ambedkar warned that the outcome signals “a threat to parliamentary democracy” and urged all the Opposition parties in the country to fight unitedly to save India from the BJP's authoritarian tendencies.

The Congress and the NCP have not directly attacked the EVMs, though they raised concerns privately as the results had fallen short of expectations, but feel somewhat consoled that the Congress bagged a bigger chunk of the popular vote.

“The outcome proves two things – the Congress remains the BJP’s main obsession and also the strength of the INDIA bloc. Secondly, as a strategy, the BJP always ensures it beats the Congress in states where it is in a first or second position. But in Opposition-ruled states like Telangana, the BJP seems to take a back seat and lets the two Opposition parties bloody each other’s noses,” said a senior Sena (UBT) leader, declining to be named.

He claimed that this ensures the Congress gets a bad name among the Opposition allies who treat it as a rowdy ‘Big Brother’ rather than an understanding ‘Elder Brother’, while creating a rift among the Opposition parties across the country.

Concurring, a Mumbai Congress leader said that this is the classic BJP-RSS style of ‘divide-and-rule’ politics, coupled with the deployment of Central agencies allegedly to help the BJP, as was done in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan ahead of the polls.

“Now, a similar game-plan is being hatched in Maharashtra to corner the Shiv Sena (UBT) with moves to set up a SIT in the Disha Salian case, and exert pressure on other leaders like Sanjay Raut, Anil Parab, etc. The NCP (SP) leaders, and many more could be targeted,” he pointed out.

Incidentally, Maharashtra has seen the emasculation of two major parties – the NCP and the Shiv Sena – which suffered vertical splits in the past 18 months, muddying state politics. Accusing fingers were pointed at the BJP in both instances.

While one Shiv Sena is led by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, the other Shiv Sena (UBT) is headed by Thackeray; while one NCP is led by its founder-president Sharad Pawar, the other breakaway faction is headed by Deputy CM Ajit Pawar.

A national-level NCP (SP) leader explained that contrary to the perception that the BJP has gained a psychological advantage after the recent poll results, the ground reality is different.

“Actually, despite so many electoral victories, the BJP is seen as a scared and worried party, with a slippery hold on a limited geographical area, or the so-called ‘Hindi-belt’ that has given it a ‘negative, ghettoish image’ in the rest of India that it is desperately struggling to shed," he said.

He said the BJP has only itself to blame for painting itself firmly in the ‘Hindi-belt’ locality, by the manner in which it harasses the Opposition-ruled states across the country through its governors, rampant misuse of Central agencies, etc.

On the possibility of rifts in the INDIA bloc ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, the MVA leaders foresee no major problems, “barring the ruffled egos of a handful of leaders, who will ultimately fall in line” and some ‘tu-tu, main-main’ during the seat-sharing talks.

They also anticipate some friction in the matter of who could counter Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the alternative Opposition ‘PM-face’ – with several likely contestants from the INDIA group.

There is quiet apprehension about some probable ‘Trojan Horses’ within the INDIA bloc, vote-cutting of major parties, turncoats… which may prove advantageous to the BJP - both before and after the elections.

Nevertheless, they aver that given past experiences of the united Opposition locking horns with a single powerful ruling entity, ultimately it would depend on the ‘magic numbers game’ -- primarily on who gets the highest number of seats in the parliamentary polls.



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Title: Maharashtra's INDIA bloc partners feeling down but not defeated - yet

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