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Shiv Sena baits Congress with UPA rejig calls, names 6 regional leaders for anti-BJP front

In a ‘Saamana’ editorial, the Sena says the UPA’s 7/12 extract is in the name of the Congress and until that changes, getting Opposition leaders firmly together doesn’t look possible.

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Mumbai: Amid rifts within the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), the Shiv Sena has once again baited its ally, Congress, by suggesting an overhaul of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and naming half-a-dozen regional party leaders, including Sena president Uddhav Thackeray, who will be capable in taking the lead for a fresh Opposition unity. 

In an editorial in its party mouthpiece, Saamana, the Shiv Sena said the “7/12 extract (a crucial landowner document) of the UPA is currently in the name of the Congress and until that changes, getting Opposition leaders firmly together doesn’t look possible”.

In the editorial, the party named six leaders who are capable — all non-Congress, regional leaders — with whom it is important to have discussions for a renewed Opposition unity. These are Shiv Sena Chief Thackeray, Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee, Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal, Telangana Rashtra Samithi head K. Chandrashekar Rao, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s M.K. Stalin.

“For this, because the Congress did not take initiative, Mamata Banerjee had to come forward. She has called out to progressive forces,” the Sena said in the editorial. 

The Shiv Sena has been exploring prospects of Opposition unity outside of the Congress’ leadership with CM Thackeray having invited Telangana CM KCR to Mumbai last month and having discussed an Opposition front against the BJP over lunch.

In November last year, Shiv Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray, CM Thackeray’s son, also met West Bengal CM Banerjee during her visit to Mumbai, and spoke about “taking their strong bond forward”. After the meeting with Thackeray, Banerjee also met NCP chief Pawar at the latter’s residence, post which she told reporters that they discussed Opposition unity, and also sounded the death knell for the UPA, saying there was no UPA now

Over the last two years, the Shiv Sena has often suggested that Pawar should be the UPA chairperson, as many within the party feel that the Shiv Sena will have more say in a united Opposition under Pawar than one led by the Congress’ Gandhis.

The Shiv Sena’s latest barb at the Congress comes amid fresh differences within the MVA, which comprises the Shiv Sena, NCP and the Congress. The leaderships of the NCP and Shiv Sena have drawn closer over the past two years, while Congress leaders have often complained of feeling like a third wheel. 

Most recently, Congress legislators such as Zeeshan Siddiqui and Praniti Shinde publicly criticised the CM’s announcement of giving subsidised houses to MLAs from outside the Mumbai Metropolitan Region in Mumbai. Earlier this week, state Congress president Nana Patole wrote to CM Thackeray urging him to implement the common minimum programme of the MVA. 

A bunch of allegedly disgruntled Congress MLAs have also written to Sonia Gandhi wanting to meet her.

Also read: MVA members arguing again, Pawar not convinced, but Uddhav govt backs new houses for ‘rural MLAs’

‘Doubts over exactly who is in UPA and what they are doing’

The Shiv Sena said the Centre’s agenda, despite the BJP having a sweeping majority there, is to create hurdles in the functioning of non-BJP-ruled states and not allow them to work.

It gave the example of Punjab, where AAP won earlier this month with a resounding majority. Soon after the Bhagwant Mann-led government took oath in Punjab, the Centre decided to bring all officials in the Chandigarh administration under the Centre. The move was seen as one that might create friction in the functioning of the AAP-led Punjab government and the administration of the state’s capital city.

The Shiv Sena also mentioned the alleged targeting of leaders of the MVA by central agencies as the BJP’s conspiracy to destabilise the MVA government in Maharashtra.

“These people have decided that all the CMs of states who do not make (Bollywood movie) ‘The Kashmir Files’ tax-free are enemies of the country. So does the Opposition party have the leadership to get the state out of such a mindset?” the Shiv Sena said, in a veiled taunt at the Congress.

“Even if it does, will there be consensus behind that decision? There is a doubt about exactly who is in UPA and what they are doing,” the party added. 

In the Saamana editorial Thursday, the Shiv Sena also pushed its Hindutva agenda, warning that any anti-BJP front will be strong only if the new united Opposition bears in mind that “while the country belongs to everyone, the majority Hindu are its crown jewels”.

“The BJP won in Uttar Pradesh because of the decay in the secular debate in front of it,” the party said. 

‘Congress needs to last as an Opposition party’

While the Saamana editorial Thursday indirectly questioned the Congress’ capability of leading the UPA, it also reiterated that an opposition alliance will not be possible without the Congress. Even Mamata Banerjee recognises this, the Sena said.

“Democracy is being weakened by creating hurdles in the functioning of non-BJP-ruled states on a daily basis. In her letter to the leaders of different parties, including the Congress, Mamata Banerjee has asked all progressive forces to come together to fight the BJP’s injustice and dictatorship. She has also written this letter to the Congress, which means she has accepted that Opposition unity is not possible without the Congress,” the Shiv Sena said.

“Congress should definitely last as an Opposition party. Even BJP ministers such as Nitin Gadkari have expressed their opinion that the Congress party should not be finished,” it added.

Also read: After opposing mega oil refinery for 7 yrs, Shiv Sena open to alternative site in Konkan


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