As Shinde’s Coup Defangs Thackerays, NCP Steps in to Fill Void, Teetering Congress Veers Off Target

Those who concluded that the Maharashtra political crisis was done and dusted, with the BJP defanging the Shiv Sena and putting all its might behind rebel Eknath Shinde who was elevated to the post of chief minister, seem to have hit a blind spot with reference to the Sena’s allies — the NCP and Congress — who, so far, have been tepid in their response to the MVA government falling like a pack of cards.

While not many expected the marriage of convenience of the ideologically opposed parties to last long, what caught the partners by surprise was the fact that it was internal rumblings within the Sena and not the allies that brought down the barely 31-month-old government.

Now, as the allies find themselves at sea after the collapse of the Maha Vikas Aghadi, it will be worth analysing if they can last as electoral partners, given the need to protect their turf and expand their footprint. While defined power structures make it easier for allies to work together in the government, electoral politics is a different ballgame.

So, as the Sena struggles to keep its flock — and legitimacy — together, what are the Congress and NCP up to?

As Uddhav Thackeray stepped down from the chief minister’s post, the Congress and the NCP threw their weight behind him, expressing sympathy and solidarity. However, only time will tell if this support translates into real numbers on the ground.

Compared to the Congress — which is still licking its wounds after back-to-back electoral losses and leaders jumping ship — the NCP seems to be better placed with a seasoned Sharad Pawar handling its reins and eyeing expanding its footprint across the state.

When the Sena broke off its 25-year-old alliance with the BJP over the saffron party allegedly reneging on its promise of rotational chief ministership, the Congress and NCP “surrendered” the CM post in what was seen as small price to pay to keep the BJP behemoth from taking over power.

However, the inherent contradictions in the ideologies of the party soon showed up as chinks in the MVA armour as grassroots workers tried to make sense of the new alliance. It was this resentment that Shinde played into and tore away the lion’s share of MLAs from the Uddhav Thackeray faction, forcing the outgoing chief minister to abdicate his throne.

According to political analysts, while the Congress and NCP kept their side of the bargain, it was the Sena’s inability to nip its internal issues in the bud that led to the collapse of the MVA.

Talking about the future course, senior NCP leader and ex-minister Chhagan Bhujbal was quoted as saying by Indian Express: “The Congress and the NCP despite differences ensured smooth governance.” However, he added that each of them was free to follow its own political roadmap.

With Shinde pushing the Uddhav Thackeray-led Sena into near oblivion, it is time for the NCP to fill the political void and fulfil its long-held ambition to become the single largest party in the state. For now, it will be the principal opposition party in the Assembly.

The Congress, meanwhile, continues to struggle as an ineffective leadership and lack of clarity about the future demoralises the cadre further and puts a question mark on its future.

On his part, Uddhav Thackeray said, “My own people betrayed me. But I am determined to rebuild Sena.” Whether or not that remains a utopian dream, time will tell.

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