Mumbai: Two days after Uddhav Thackeray resigned as chief minister of Maharashtra, it’s back to the drawing board for the Maha Vikas Aghadi’s three parties — the Shiv Sena, the Congress, and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
With rebel Sena leader Eknath Shinde now firmly ensconced in the position of Maharashtra’s new chief minister and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Devendra Fadnavis sworn in as his deputy, all three parties are weighing their options and considering their next move, ThePrint has learnt.
The MVA alliance was born in 2019 after all three parties set aside their political differences to form a government with Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray as the chief minister. After more than a week of dramatic political developments, the MVA government finally collapsed Wednesday night. Thackeray resigned minutes after the Supreme Court refused to interfere with a floor test that Maharashtra’s governor, Bhagat Singh Koshyari, had ordered.
Despite the government’s fall, both the Congress and the Shiv Sena have said that the MVA alliance will continue. Speaking to ThePrint, Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole said: “We’ll remain the MVA. There are three parties in the opposition now. And all who are in opposition have formed the group called the MVA already. Strategies and all will be jointly done”.
The Thackeray faction of the Sena, meanwhile, hopes the alliance will stay together as a joint opposition. Sena MP Vinayak Raut told ThePrint that “MVA is still intact and will remain so”.
However, the NCP — the party with the most MLAs of the three — seems less keen: NCP chief Sharad Pawar congratulated Shinde after he was sworn in Thursday but deflected questions on the future of the MVA alliance at a press conference he addressed later in Pune.
“What happened just happened yesterday. So why the hurry? We will discuss [it] and we will need time,” said Pawar.
To complicate things further, differences have already begun creeping into the alliance: Congress sources say many of its leaders are disgruntled with the party’s decision to agree to renaming two cities in the state — Aurangabad and Osmanabad. The decision was taken Wednesday at what turned out to be the last cabinet meeting under Thackeray.
The political churning in Maharashtra is also expected to have a bearing on the crucial Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections, which are likely to be held after the monsoon. Both the Congress and the NCP have already announced their intention to contest the elections alone.
It also remains to be seen who will be the next leader of the opposition (LoP) in the Maharashtra assembly, although the NCP has the highest number of MLAs out of the three parties.
The NCP has 53 MLAs in the House against the Congress’s 44. Meanwhile, the Thackeray faction of the Sena has 16 MLAs.
Maharashtra Congress chief Patole said that the LoP would be from the NCP.
“NCP has greater numbers so it will be them,” Patole said.
However, when asked who would be LoP, NCP state chief Jayant Patil told reporters in Mumbai that the three parties would “sit together” soon to decide.
Also Read: Shinde or Uddhav, which is the real Sena? All eyes on next chapter of Maharashtra row
Differences in MVA
In the middle of what was still an escalating political crisis Wednesday, ministers from both the Congress and the NCP agreed to rename the cities of Aurangabad and Osmanabad — a move that meant both the Congress and the NCP giving up on a nearly three-decade-old ideological position.
Renaming Aurangabad to Sambhajinagar has been a long-standing demand of the Shiv Sena. Built in 1610 by Malik Ambar of the Nizam Shahi dynasty, Aurangabad — previously called Khadki — was named thus after it became the headquarters of Aurangzeb during his rule over the Deccan. Mughal emperor Aurangzeb killed Sambhaji — son of the revered Maratha king Shivaji — on 14 May 1657.
The cabinet also approved a proposal to rename Osmanabad, a city named after Hyderabad’s last ruler, Mir Osman Ali Khan, to Dharashiv — a name derived from sixth-century caves near the city. This has also been on the Sena’s agenda.
Sources in the Congress say that the decision to rename the two cities has left many leaders in the party’s Maharashtra unit disgruntled, and may lead to disagreements between the state unit and the high command at a time when the modalities of the MVA alliance are still to be worked out.
ThePrint has learnt that Congress MLAs have sought a meeting with the state leadership to demand an explanation for the decision.
Additionally, sources in the Congress say both the party and the NCP are worried that the shift in the power centre in the state and the use of central agencies by the BJP may lead to them losing more leaders over time.
A senior functionary of the All India Congress Committee told ThePrint that ideological considerations notwithstanding, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi “stood firmly with Uddhav Thackeray”.
“While he (Gandhi) had reservations about the MVA when it was being formed, he has since developed a good working equation with Thackeray and is also appreciative of how he runs the government. In that sense, the MVA will continue because the Shiv Sena, due to legal and constitutional reasons, cannot be taken away from the Thackerays,” the functionary said.
Changing equations before BMC elections
The churn in Maharashtra politics is also expected to have consequences for the next BMC elections. The BMC — the richest municipal body in the country — has been a stronghold of the Shiv Sena for years, and the BJP has been eyeing it.
Although it remains to be seen what the NCP — a party that doesn’t hold much sway in the BMC elections — will do next, Congress leaders say they might have to rethink their decision to contest the elections alone.
“We’d taken the decision to go alone for the BMC [elections] because in about 150 of the 220 seats in the municipality, there is a direct contest between the Shiv Sena and the Congress. The BJP became a presence in the BMC only after 2014,” said a functionary of the Maharashtra Congress.
However, that decision might be reconsidered now that “even the Mumbai MLAs of the Sena have gone with Eknath Shinde”, the functionary said.
“A lot will depend on how Uddhav Thackeray manages his party now,” the functionary said.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)
Also Read: Uddhav Thackeray’s failing trapeze act on secularism-Hindutva has lessons for other parties