Hingoli (Maharashtra): The Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) put up a strong show of strength at Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra Thursday and Friday, with several leaders of the alliance — including Thackeray scion Aaditya — joining the Maharashtra leg of the nationwide march.
Aaditya, whose family has criticised the Gandhi family several times in the past, joined the yatra for about 8 km Friday and was even seen hugging and walking hand-in-hand with Rahul.
Among Congress allies who joined the 3,570-km yatra march were Nationalist Congress Party Supriya Sule, NCP state chief Jayant Patil, and Ambadas Danve, who’s the leader of opposition in Maharashtra’s Legislative Council and a leader from Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray).
After he joined the yatra at Hingoli in Marathwada, Aaditya — the son of former chief minister Uddhav Thackeray — told ThePrint that it was essential for people from diverse ideologies to come together “for a vibrant democracy”.
“What’s wrong if two ideologies come together for the country,” he asked, referring to the frequent criticism that the Congress and the Shiv Sena had conflicting ideologies.
“Those who are [ supposed to be] of the same ideology wanted to finish us off, push us out of politics, eat us. Today, what has happened in Maharashtra is Congress, NCP, and the Sena coming together. [We may be from] different ideologies but it’s what a vibrant democracy is about — working together for the betterment of our country, people, and the Constitution,” he said.
Aaditya was apparently referring to the BJP, the party that’s now in the ruling alliance for Sena rebel and current chief minister, Eknath Shinde. In June, Shinde led a rebellion that caused a vertical split in the Shiv Sena, bringing down Uddhav’s MVA government.
Aaditya’s presence at the yatra is seen as yet another sign of the growing closeness between the Congress and Uddhav Thackeray’s faction of the Shiv Sena. Since first allying together in 2019 to form the MVA, ties between the two parties have come a long way.
Congress’s communications in-charge Jairam Ramesh agreed there were ideological differences between the two parties but said that the MVA was formed on the basis of a Common Minimum Programme (CMP).
“I had a small role in making the CMP. That was an earthquake in Maharashtra’s politics as we had to find a midway since Shiv Sean’s and Congress’s ideologies are different. And we found it,” Ramesh told ThePrint.
Flagged off on 23 August from Kanyakumari, the Congress’s Bharat Jodo Yatra is aimed at covering 3,570-km across India and has so far covered Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana. The yatra, which is scheduled to be in Maharashtra until 20 November, is expected to reach Srinagar in late January next year.
Also Read: Six reasons why Bharat Jodo Yatra isn’t simply a routine political ‘tamasha’
‘Our fortunes will run ahead’
At the yatra, slogans against Chief Minister Eknath Shinde rent the air every time the rally passed the rival Sena faction’s constituency.
“We’ve come here because the invitation was sent to Uddhav Thackeray and he accepted it,” Subhash Wankhede, a Shiv Sainik from Nanded, told ThePrint. “There’s autocracy in the country. Rules are bent [to suit the leadership]. That’s why we’re supporting the yatra.”
Meanwhile, NCP leaders like Supriya Sule joined the yatra at Nanded Thursday evening and even attended a public rally in the city where Rahul Gandhi was scheduled to speak.
“NCP chief Sharad Pawar asked us to represent our party and extend our support to Bharat Jodo Yatra. We are seeing that Rahul Gandhi is even running at this yatra. Now we can say that our fortunes are also going to run going forward,” Maharashtra NCP chief Jayant Patil said in his speech at the rally.
Ramesh told ThePrint that although organised by the Congress, the yatra would welcome anyone who was willing to fight the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
“Although this is a yatra of a political party, [the] Congress party is not an NGO and we extended our invitations to everyone who wanted to fight the ideology of BJP/RSS. And whoever wants to fight an ideological battle and we welcome them,” he said.
From rivals to allies
Although ideological rivals, the relationship between the Sena and the Congress has always been something of an enigma.
Within a year of the Sena’s birth in 1966, there were frequent clashes between the party and the communists, whom it saw as “anti-nationals”.
The ruling Congress chose to turn a blind eye towards these clashes — which were primarily centered around Mumbai’s mill districts — since the weakening of the leftist movement would be politically advantageous to the party.
The Congress’s strategic silence led the communists to call Sena ‘Vasant Sena‘ for allegedly pushing then Chief Minister Vasantrao Naik’s agenda.
There were also other instances when Bal Thackeray, the Sena founder and the father of Shiv Sena (UBT) chief Uddhav Thackeray, came in support of the Congress.
For instance, at the presidential election of 2007, Bal Thackeray went against the Sena’s then-ally BJP to support the United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA) candidate Pratibha Patil. When asked, Sena had said it couldn’t oppose a Maharashtrian.
In fact, it was Thackeray who supported the much-reviled Emergency imposed by former prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1975.
“We have supported each other earlier as well. Bal Thackeray supported the candidature of Pratibha Patil and Pranab Mukherjee despite having different ideologies,” the Sena founder’s grandson Aaditya told ThePrint at the Bharat Jodo Yatra.
The last two years, however, have seen a slow transformation of their relationship.
In particular, the relationship between Rahul Gandhi and Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) chief Uddhav Thackeray has seen a notable change.
This is significant because, in 2019, it was the Gandhi scion who had reportedly opposed an alliance with the Sena for ideological reasons and was upset with senior party leaders like the late Ahmed Patel for having brokered it.
The alliance came together only after the three allies — the Congress, the Sena, and the NCP — agreed on a Common Minimum Programme.
“The CMP had to be formed and once it was done, Congress came on board and today we are a part of MVA,” Ramesh told ThePrint.
This growing closeness between the two parties showed — in January 2020, Aaditya met Rahul in Delhi, two months after their parties forged an alliance.
In his speech at the Sena’s Dussehra rally earlier in October, Uddhav said that when his own people “deceived him”, it was Sonia Gandhi and Sharad Pawar who stood by him.
The speech came almost two months after internal strife and a subsequent rebellion within the Shiv Sena caused the Uddhav-led MVA to collapse, making way for a new government under rebel Sena leader Eknath Shinde.
The Congress too reciprocated. At the last cabinet meeting of the Uddhav government — held just before it fell — the Congress supported Thackeray’s decision to rename Aurangabad to Sambhajinagar and Osmanabad to Dharashiv.
The decision came despite the Congress party’s long-held position against such a name change.
Aaditya sees this alliance as a way of saving India’s democracy.
“If you look at the country currently, what is happening is that anyone who’s voicing or speaking the truth is facing inquiries and illegal arrests. That’s a danger to our democracy,” Thackeray junior told ThePrint.
This is an updated version of the story
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)
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