On Backing Shiv Sena, Sharad Pawar Nudges Congress. Over To Sonia Gandhi


The Congress leadership is undecided over support to the ideologically-opposed Shiv Sena.

New Delhi: 

The Congress has called a meeting of its decision-making group, the Working Committee (CWC), to discuss its options in Maharashtra where the BJP, short of a majority, has refused to stake claim to power and its ally Shiv Sena is set to break away to try and form a non-BJP alliance. The Congress leadership is undecided over support to the ideologically-opposed Shiv Sena days after its chief Sonia Gandhi strongly ruled it out.

The CWC, in the meeting at Sonia Gandhi’s home in Delhi, will decide whether to offer support to a Shiv Sena-led government and the Congress’s role in such an arrangement.

The Shiv Sena pulled out its only minister from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government at the centre this morning, in a precursor to a break-up with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The Sena move to exit the NDA meets a big condition that the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) of Sharad Pawar had for any possibility of talks with the party on government formation. The ball is in the court of the NCP and the Congress.

“Whatever decision is to be taken will be taken only after discussions with the Congress,” said Sharad Pawar.

It is the Congress that will take convincing to back the Sena, which is anathema to the party.

Backing the Sena, a party steeped in Hindutva politics and “anti-Congressism”, is a big ideological shift for the Congress; to take such a step, the party is likely to insist on a common programme and policies.

Maharashtra Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut is likely to meet top Congress leaders in New Delhi to seek support for his party’s government in the state, news agency IANS reported, quoting sources.

Congress MLAs are at a resort in Jaipur in party-ruled Rajasthan for protection from “poaching” attempts. Most of them are inclined to support a non-BJP government in Maharashtra.

“We are discussing all the options before us. We have not decided anything yet,” senior Maharashtra Congress leader Ashok Chavan told news agency ANI. He said the party “wants a stable government in Maharashtra and not President’s Rule”.

Senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, who is also with the MLAs, denied knowledge of reports that Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray had contacted Sonia Gandhi. “We will do whatever the high command will suggest. Our original stand is that we will sit in the opposition as people gave us mandate to sit in the opposition and we will do the same,” Mr Kharge told ANI.

Those in the Congress who favour backing the Sena argue that the BJP formed governments in Goa and Manipur even when they were not the single largest party, and the governors allowed such BJP-led coalitions to take power.

For the Sena too, accepting Congress support will mean a loss of identity, which leaves the stability of any arrangement between the two suspect.

While the Congress leadership in Delhi is under increasing pressure from its Maharashtra MLAs, one of its leaders in the state, Sanjay Nirupam, warned the party that such a move would be “disastrous”. He tweeted: “In the current political arithmetic in Maharashtra, it’s just impossible for Congress-NCP to form any government. For that we need Shiv Sena. And we must not think of sharing power with Shiv Sena under any circumstances. That will be a disastrous move for the party.”

This morning, Mr Nirupam added: “No matter who forms government and how, political instability in Maharashtra cannot be ruled out now. Get ready for early elections. It may take place in 2020. Can we go to the elections with Shiv Sena as partner?”

The BJP won 105 seats in last month’s Maharashtra election. Along with the Sena’s 56, the NDA had a clear majority. But the Sena refused to form government with the BJP without a “50:50” deal including rotational chief ministership. After the BJP withdrew from the race, saying it could not form a government on its own, the Sena is looking to take power with the support of the NCP (54) and Congress (44).

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